More people died on Wisconsin roads in 2012 than in any of the previous four years, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation reported this week.
The state closed out 2012 with 601 traffic deaths, 36 more than 2011 and two more than the previous five-year average.
For Waukesha, 2012 brought three deadly car accidents – breaking the city's nearly three-year fatal accident-free streak. One accident was attributed to weather conditions, one to alleged drunken driving and one to a suicide.
The tally also ended the state's run of four consecutive years with fewer than 600 traffic deaths. Before the 2008-2011 period, the last time the state had traffic death numbers that low was from 1924-1927, the DOT reported.
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.
Breaking down the numbers, State Patrol Maj. Sandra Huxtable, director of the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety, said 29 more motorcyclists died on Wisconsin roads than in 2011. The 114 fatalities in 2012 was the second-highest number since the all-time high of 123 in 1979. She attributed that to the longer riding season due to warm and dry weather from late winter to late fall, and said more than 80 percent of those killed in motorcycle crashes were not wearing helmets.
There was also a 37 percent increase in fatalities for passengers in automobiles and light trucks, which Huxtable said could indicate people were not wearing safety belts. Wisconsin’s safety belt use rate of about 80 percent lags behind the national average of 86 percent, according to the DOT, and is far below neighboring states, all of which have safety belt use rates of more than 90 percent.
Major Huxtable said in a statement, “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.”