Wisconsin ended 2012 with 601 traffic deaths, which was 36 more, or about 6 percent higher, than 2011 and two more than the previous five-year average, according to preliminary statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).
Traffic fatalities in Wisconsin last year also ended four consecutive years of fewer than 600 annual traffic fatalities. Before the 2008 to 2011 period, the last time the state had fewer than 600 traffic fatalities for four years in a row was from 1924 to 1927.
The traffic fatalities total for last year included 101 motorcycle drivers, 13 motorcycle passengers, 44 pedestrians and 10 bicyclists.
Nationally, traffic fatalities were up about 7 percent for the first nine months of 2012 compared with 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Besides Wisconsin, preliminary statistics indicate that double-digit increases in traffic fatalities were experienced in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.
Assessing the factors in the increase of traffic fatalities in Wisconsin last year, State Patrol Maj. Sandra Huxtable, director of the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety, said, “Motorcyclists’ traffic deaths increased by 29, or approximately 34 percent, compared with 2011. The 114 motorcylists’ fatalities in 2012 were the highest number since the all-time high of 123 in 1979. The unseasonably warm and dry weather in most of the state from late winter to late fall, significantly lengthened the typical motorcycle riding season, which played a role in the increase. Tragically, more than 80 percent of the motorcyclists who died in crashes last year were not wearing helmets.”
In addition, there was a dramatic 37 percent increase in fatalities for passengers in automobiles and light trucks. Major Huxtable said, “The significant increase in passengers’ deaths indicates that there were far too many vehicle occupants who likely died because they were not wearing safety belts and consequently were ejected from their vehicle or thrown around violently inside it in crashes.”
Wisconsin’s safety belt use rate of approximately 80 percent lags behind the national average of 86 percent and is far below neighboring states all of which have safety belt use rates of more than 90 percent.
Major Huxtable said, “Assessing the devastating effects of traffic fatalities is more than just numbers and statistics. Each number was a person. And we know all too well that many of the traffic deaths last year could have been prevented if motorists had slowed down, paid attention, drove sober and buckled up. We all must do everything we can to drive and ride responsibly and safely, every trip, every time, so we can one day reach zero preventable deaths in Wisconsin.”