Wisconsin Traffic Deaths In 2017 Keeping Pace With Last Year

State DOT: Distracted Driving, Drugs Increasingly Leading To Traffic Fatalities

Traffic on an interstate
Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

For the third year in a row, Wisconsin is on track to have more than 500 traffic-related deaths.

Preliminary data from the state Department of Transportation shows 271 traffic fatalities in the first half of the year — that’s one fewer than the same period in 2016.

Distracted driving is still the biggest factor in fatal crashes, said David Pabst, that DOT’s director of transportation safety.

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“You’re cognitively distracted and your mind is on whatever it is you’re going to do with your phone,” Pabst said. “For 20-some seconds after you’ve set your phone down you’re still distracted. You could be proceeding through the stop sign not even knowing what’s going on around you.”

Pabst said a growing number of pedestrian deaths are also due to cellphone distractions.

For the past decade, the DOT has been successfully working to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths on Wisconsin roads but other factors are increasingly causing problems.

“Even though we’re doing better on the alcohol side, we’ve got distracted driving and we’ve got drugged driving,” Pabst said. “You put those together and it’s still a real lethal mix.”

Pabst said the state is training law enforcement to better identify the signs of drugged driving.

The DOT data also shows eight traffic fatalities over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, compared to 12 last year.