Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has announced that her administration will lower speed limits on all arterials — busy streets with a dividing line — to 25 mph.

Slowing speed limits on busy city streets has been a promise from Seattle City Hall since at least 2016, when the city made 25 mph the “default” on unmarked arterials and changed signs downtown to 25 mph. But many arterials outside downtown were not changed and have speed limits of up to 45 mph, according to SDOT.

SDOT plans to install 2,000 to 3,000 new 25 mph signs over the next 18 months on nearly all city arterials. Installing the signs will cost about $1 million, according to the agency. There will be more of them than existing signs, about every quarter- to half-mile.

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Newly released city data revealed that close to twice as many people have died this year in traffic collisions than in 2018.

Tips for safe winter driving »

Durkan’s announcement had some Seattle residents wondering why collision rates are on the rise. Some have criticized Washington’s drivers-license exam, arguing it does not adequately test drivers.

In 2016, the exam got its first overhaul in decades.

The first overhaul of the exam in decades requires not only a more robust knowledge of longstanding traffic laws, but an understanding of the behind-the-wheel risks associated with smartphones and the state’s legalization of pot. 


“We know people train to test, they study what they’re going to be tested on,” said (National Safety Council) President and CEO Deborah Hersman. “They (teens) are just not good drivers, they’re new drivers. They’re learning a new skill, and adding any distractions is something we know takes away from people’s capacity to process what’s going on. Texting takes your eyes, hands and brain off the road.”

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However, in June, a study by a personal-injury law firm found that Washington is the hardest state in which to get a license.

In Washington, more people fail the written knowledge test than the driving-skills test, according to driving-school instructors, (state Department of Licensing spokeswoman Christine) Anthony and DOL data.

In the first four months of 2019, about 77% of people who took the driving-skills portion of the test passed, regardless of whether the test was administered at one of the state DOL offices or through a private driver-training school.

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Would you pass the written driver’s test? Try these practice questions:


After The Seattle Times published that study, a group of driving instructors sent in a letter saying that getting a license here should be harder. The Times included an excerpt of the letter in a piece about why Seattleites seem to be terrible at driving in the rain, despite all the practice we get.


“For years now, a common and bitter grievance among driving examiners performing behind-the-wheel skills exams is that the method of calculating the driver’s score is forcing examiners to pass a driver that they can see is unsafe,” they said. “This is because the method of scoring that Washington state is using for the skills exam has a serious flaw: Although the examiner is recording on the score sheet all errors a driver makes during the skills test, a driver can make multiple errors — many of them high-risk — that are not allowed to be deducted from their final score.”

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Seattleites are in good company when it comes to complaining about local drivers.

“No matter where you live in the country, everyone thinks the local drivers are the worst anywhere. And nobody ever says that drivers are getting better,” FYI Guy Gene Balk wrote in June, when he looked at why Seattle ranks 155th among 200 U.S. cities on the 2019 Allstate Best Drivers report.

The Allstate rankings have been something of a roller coaster for Seattle. In its first, 2005, Seattle ranked 163rd. We dropped a couple of places in 2006, but then began to steadily climb in the rankings. We peaked in 2010, when our drivers placed 128th out of 200 (Bellevue’s best ranking was in 2009, at 117th).

After that, it was all downhill for five straight years. We bottomed out in 2015, ranking a dismal 184th. But since then, we’ve been back on the upswing.

Read the story and see where Pacific Northwest cities rank »