DEAL THOUGH WE DO in the news business with tragedies and the attendant statistics describing them, there are times when such reports touch us personally as well as professionally. So it was on New Year's morning, only hours after our Metro section had carried a report noting a "record low" of 46 traffic fatalities in the District" in 1980. The article quoted Capt. Wayne Layfield, commander of the police department's traffic enforcement branch, observing that such a number "may not seem like much -- until one of your loved ones becomes involved; then it gets very personal."

That it did -- with the news that the city's first fatal traffic accident of 1981 had taken the life of Jean Marie Pierce, assistant controller of The Washington Post in charge of the credit department and a friend of everyone who knew her in this newspaper. Mrs. Pierce, who graced our midst for more than 34 years, had been in a car with her husband and constant companion, John R. Pierce, also a popular colleague of ours from 1948 until his retirement three years ago and a dear friend still; with them, too, was Mr. Pierce's daughter, Barbara.

The rest of the police report could have come from almost any New Year's traffic accident ledger: the car was struck on the passenger side by another car; police identified the driver of that car as a 16-year-old, whom they charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding and running a red light. How often the stories of those three Ds -- drinking, driving and death -- come across our desk.

Jean Pierce was a favorite friend not only of people in every department of this newspaper, but also of legions in her profession and around the town. Just as she loved opera, ballet, the theater, books and her work, she was devoted to every facet of the newspaper business; if accounting was her forte, she kept close tabs on the news as well, seeming to have read nearly everything that appeared -- and complimenting reporters whose writing she particularly enjoyed.

There will be more writing to do about driving, drinking and death; and each story will "get very personal" for some people, as Capt. Layfield said. And if we react strongly, it will be for personal as well as occupational cause -- because Jean was one fine friend.