PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — This year has seen a spike in traffic-related deaths in Portland. In fact, a 2-year progress report released in September showed traffic deaths increased 34% in 2019.

There have been efforts to reduce the deaths over the past decade, but despite efforts and road improvements, crashes and deaths continue to take place.

The September report noted that on average, there are more than 23,000 crashes in our region each year that result in injury. The report notes that 38% of the people killed in traffic crashes in 2019 were walking.

Tuesday morning, members of the Portland Traffic Division held a press conference to answer questions about the reasons why officials believe this spike is taking place and their efforts to minimize the deaths.

According to the Portland Police Bureau, there’s been 62 fatal crashes on Portland roadways and 26 pedestrian fatalities to date. This is the highest number of roadway crashes since 1990 which had 63 deaths.

“It’s not a coincidence that we’re having so many fatalities,” said Sgt. Ty Engstrom with PPB’s Traffic Division. “It’s hard to ignore the fact that we have a huge number, record setting numbers of fatalities, and we have very, very low numbers of police officers patrolling our streets.”

There’s fewer motor officers and car officers for traffic enforcement than in previous years meaning the bureau doesn’t have the resources to investigate crashes, according to officials.

“At the beginning of 2021, staffing levels in the PPB were so low that they had to dismantle almost the entire traffic division,” Sgt. Engstrom said.

He said he is the only full-time officer in the motor unit currently as other officers were moved to precincts around the city due to staffing shortages.

Since the city just approved adding PPB employees through the retire/rehire program, it remains to be seen how many officers who retired from the traffic division would come back. Officials said another factor in the increase in crash deaths is people driving faster.