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Wisconsin ended 2014 with 491 traffic fatalities, which was the lowest number of deaths and the first time below 500 fatalities since 1943 when 417 people in died in crashes, according to preliminary statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).
State traffic deaths in 2014 also were down 36 (approximately a 7 percent reduction) from 2013 when 527 people died and 68 fewer than the five-year average of 559 deaths.
“There is no single factor that led to this reduction in traffic fatalities to the lowest total since 1943 when the number of vehicles and the miles traveled on Wisconsin roads were a fraction of what they are today,” said WisDOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb. “We know that the majority of serious crashes are caused by bad driving habits and irresponsible decisions. Therefore, motorists deserve a great deal of credit for saving their own lives and lives of others by slowing down, paying attention, buckling up and driving sober. In addition, WisDOT and our partners continue to invest funding and resources to improve traffic safety enforcement, education and engineering. These investments are clearly helping to prevent fatalities.”
David Pabst, director of the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety, noted several factors that contributed to the reduction in traffic deaths.
He pointed out that safety belt use in Wisconsin reached an all-time high in 2014 with nearly 85 percent of drivers and passengers buckling up. However, Wisconsin’s safety belt use rate still lags behind the national average of 87 percent and is below neighboring states, all of which have safety belt use rates of more than 90 percent.
Although the figures for alcohol-related fatal crashes in 2014 won’t be available for a few months, Pabst says, “Deaths due to alcohol-related crashes in Wisconsin have declined dramatically in the past 10 years from 348 fatalities in 2003 to 185 in 2013, which is a 47 percent reduction.”
To combat drunken driving, law enforcement agencies around the state have formed Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) Task Forces using federal funding administered by WisDOT. Currently, 16 OWI Task Forces are operating in urban and rural communities.
To prevent speed-related crashes on major highways, the State Patrol Air Support Unit flew 88 traffic enforcement missions last year. WisDOT used Twitter to advise drivers of the time and locations of the aerial enforcement missions to increase voluntary compliance with speed limits and other traffic laws.
“Another major traffic safety improvement last year was the reduction in motorcyclists’ fatalities,” Pabst said. “There were 74 motorcyclists killed in crashes last year, which was the lowest number since 2001, when 72 motorcyclists died in crashes. The 2014 riding season was shorter than normal because of a cold spring. But efforts to improve motorcycle safety through rider education and training also contributed to the drop in fatalities. About 35 percent of motorcyclists’ fatalities from 2003 to 2013 involved riders who had not completed the safety training or skills test required to obtain a motorcycle license, so we must continue our efforts to get more motorcyclists trained and properly licensed.”
In addition to improved driving behavior, engineering had a significant role in saving lives. “Engineering advancements have made the vehicles we drive and the roads we drive on much safer,” Pabst said.
In assessing the decrease in traffic fatalities, Secretary Gottlieb said, “We are encouraged but certainly not complacent about our continuing efforts to prevent traffic deaths and injuries. In Wisconsin, on average, more than one person per day is killed in a crash and more than 100 are injured. Traffic fatalities are more than just numbers and statistics. Each number was a person whose tragic death was mourned by family and friends. And we know that most traffic deaths could have been prevented if motorists had only slowed down, paid attention, driven sober and buckled up. We all must do everything we can to reach the ultimate goal of zero preventable traffic deaths in Wisconsin.”