Karen Wigen, Target Zero Manager for Region 16, has a unique perspective on traffic safety. She shares how being part of an Engineering and Road Safety Department shaped this TZM and Task Force.

Karen Wigen, Target Zero Manager for Region 16, has a unique perspective on traffic safety. She shares how being part of an Engineering and Road Safety Department shaped this TZM and Task Force.

Karen Wigen’s “A Task Force’s History”

The Spokane County Task Force was started November of 1980 by Ross Kelley, Assistant Planning and Traffic Engineer (later County Engineer), when he applied to WTSC for funding to start a community-based traffic safety program. The grant was accepted!

His objective was to reduce the number and ratio of alcohol-related traffic deaths and traffic crashes by designing and placing in Spokane County an alcohol countermeasure program that is consistent with Spokane’s community goals and values. 

The project had five phases; measure community values, assess program from selected alternatives, design program from selected alternatives, implement the program and evaluate the program. 

1.     Measure community values.  A professional research organization was used to poll the community.  The information was collected by random telephone interview using trained pollsters.  All information was anonymous.  Information was tabulated and projected by age, sex, driver/nondriver, geographical area, drinker/non-drinker, level of education, and income bracket.

2.    Assess Needs and Develop Alternatives.  While the information collection phase was underway, a representative group of citizens was assembled.  Spokane County had developed, and used citizen participated in methods to address community issues in subject areas other than traffic safety with success, so CARTA was established.  CARTA – citizens against alcohol-related traffic accidents. (The word accidents was later changed to crashes, sorry.) The name then changed to Spokane County Traffic Safety Commission and now is known as Spokane County Target Zero Task Force.  The first coordinator started in March of 1981. Four to six key organizations in Spokane County were selected and asked to name a representative to serve on a nucleus committee.  The nucleus committee members recommend other organizations that they feel should be contacted.  This activity was continued until a sizeable committee was formed; 20 to 30 members.  It began with 26 members.

3.     Design program from selected alternatives.  The results of the public opinion poll questionnaire;

a.    74% of those surveyed drink alcohol and 55.2% said they drive after drinking.

b.    91% say they know when they are too drunk to drive.

c.    People who drink seem to have a better knowledge of the law while non-drinkers knew more about the effects of alcohol on the body.

d.    50% felt that drunk drivers are a significant cause of traffic accidents and 71.5% felt the drinking driver was major community problem about which something should be done.

e.    Drinkers felt a preventive countermeasure program would be more effective while non-drinkers favored punitive measures. 

f.    Everyone needs to work on the problem, citizens and government and professional agencies alike to reduce traffic accidents and injuries.

The results from the survey information supported the committee’s decision to move forward to develop goals and objectives of interaction between the citizen’s committee and the general public regarding the drinking driver. 

4.    Implement the program. The CARTA officers held several news conferences to announce CARTA’s activities and explain the task of setting up a community-based countermeasure program. CARTA members wanted to know more about the problem locally and hear from professionals in the field, so monthly meetings were utilized to gather information with speakers.  The speakers were law enforcement, judicial and prosecution, education, treatment and liquor control board.

The CARTA members were offered ride-a-longs with Washington State Patrol while others attended the judicial process in the courtrooms.  The members supported the “I Am the Driver” program sponsored by WTSC.  Packets were distributed countywide with good media coverage at media events.  

In October, the traffic safety coordinator provided an overview of the CARTA committee to the WTSC Representative meeting in Wenatchee, Washington.  CARTA officers were invited to speak again at the Spokane meeting in April.

5.    Evaluate the program.  The thriving community program grew by leaps and bounds.  A logo was designed.  A slide show presentation was developed to present to organizations in the community to change opinions regarding alcohol and the driver.  The committee made up goals and task objectives.  The committee grew to include law enforcement, judicial, prosecutors, treatment, schools, fire department, and engineers, as well as the citizens.  The list of members by the end of June in 1982 was at 74.  These same groups/organizations/citizens make up our task force today.

Summary:  The present traffic safety task force was started in 1981 by a traffic engineer in Spokane County Engineers office, now known as Spokane County Public Works who applied for a grant from WTSC in 1980.  The local traffic safety task force grants have supported four traffic safety coordinators to lead the task force over the 38 years. My predecessor supported the second coordinator and then became the third coordinator.  All in all, she worked with the task force for 27 years.  I started working with her back in 1991 for four years before moving to another department within the Engineers.  When she decided to retire in 2009, I applied for the position and became the fourth coordinator.  It was and is a well-organized task force with years of support from our local community organizations, Spokane County Public Works and Washington Traffic Safety Commission. We still follow a lot of the past guidelines listed above; monthly meetings, yearly community assessments, updating strategic plans and objectives, community presentations, law enforcement emphasis patrols, and media educational participation.  There is no doubt in my mind, and the Spokane County Target Zero Task Force will be celebrating along with all the other statewide traffic safety task forces when we reach our reach our target zero goal in 2030!