236 Citations Issued in Dane County Impaired Driving Campaign

Originally Released: January 22, 2024.

 

Two hundred thirty-six drivers were cited for traffic violations during a December two-day crackdown on impaired driving which involved all law
enforcement agencies in Dane County, according to the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC).

On December 15 and 29, the Wisconsin State Patrol, Dane County Sheriff’s Office and all Dane County police departments implemented increased enforcement looking for impaired drivers through the “Drive Sober, Get Pulled Over” campaign organized by the TSCs law enforcement subgroup.

Lt. Chad O’Neil, Stoughton Police Department, co-chairs that group. “This was the first time in recent history when all 22 county law enforcement agencies conducted simultaneous enforcement to stop driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” Lt. O’Neil said.

During this two-day effort, these agencies recorded:

  • 385 stops of vehicles whose drivers were suspected of impaired driving or other traffic violations
  • 296 verbal or written warnings for risky driving behavior, including 57 for speeding
  • 236 traffic citations were issued, including 52 for speeding, a number of which were for drivers exceeding the speed limit by 20 m.p.h. or more.
  • 7 arrests for OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated). An additional 21 arrests were made for other criminal violations

Law enforcement agencies dedicated over 486 combined hours conducting this enforcement campaign, which was planned during the holidays, when driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is especially common.

“This effort brought together smaller and larger law enforcement agencies across the county with one purpose: to save lives and reduce injuries,” Lt. O’Neil said. “We just want people to think and not drive if they’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We can’t measure the number of people who decided not to drive because of this campaign. But we can measure statistics on
traffic stops when dangerous behavior is observed. They tell a story that is a good reminder for us all.”

Law Enforcement Agencies Work Together to Reduce Impaired Driving

Originally Released: December 12, 2023.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Dane County are joining forces this holiday season to remind drivers it’s not worth the risk to drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs. The Wisconsin State Patrol, Dane County Sheriff’s Office, and all 20 local police departments in the county are working in partnership with the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC) to remind drivers to “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” Together, these agencies will launch a special enforcement effort to get impaired drivers off the roads over the holidays.

“On December 15 and 29, our collaborative increased presence will help deter impaired driving and provide an opportunity for officers to talk with the public about the risk of getting behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs,” said Lt. Chad O’Neil, Stoughton Police Department, co-chair of the Law
Enforcement Subgroup of the TSC.

“It’s more than stopping or arresting drivers. Our goal is to save lives. Someone is killed or injured in an impaired driving crash about every two hours in Wisconsin. We must put an end to these preventable tragedies,” Lt. O’Neil said.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi emphasized the importance of this joint effort. “The holidays are known for being the deadliest season when it comes to impaired driving. In Wisconsin, over the holiday season last year from Dec. 15 through Jan. 1, there were 470 crashes involving impaired drivers. This campaign is happening now to ensure everyone can make it home for the holidays.”

Parisi said that alcohol and drugs can have a significant impact on a driver’s focus and ability to maintain control behind the wheel. “Last year in Dane County there were 549 crashes involving drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs. These resulted in 14 deaths and 274 injuries. So far this year in Dane County, there have been nearly that many – 548 alcohol or drug-related crashes. The year’s not over, and the 15 related deaths already exceeded last year’s total. Alcohol and drugs contributed to more than one-third of all traffic fatalities.

“I’m pleased that our county’s law enforcement professionals have committed to this joint effort to keep our roadways and those who depend on them safer.”The new Dane County campaign was announced in a press conference at Hotel Indigo, which is located in the “hotspot” area experiencing the most impaired driving crashes in the county. Over the past three years, 19 crashes have occurred in just nine blocks of East Washington, East Johnson, and East Gorham. Four other hotspot crash areas are in Madison and five in the cities of Sun Prairie and Monona, and the towns of Dunn, Springfield, and Deerfield. These areas will receive special attention during this campaign.

After the holidays, the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission will announce the number of traffic stops, citations, warnings, and OWI arrests made during this effort.

Everyone can help with this effort. Lt. O’Neil offered these tips:

  • If you plan to celebrate, identify a sober designated driver, call a taxi, use a rideshare service or find another safe ride home.
  • Never allow someone who is impaired to get behind the wheel. If a friend is about to drive after drinking or using drugs, take the keys away and help them get home safely.
  • If you suspect a driver is impaired, call 911. Provide as much detail as possible on the driver, vehicle, and location.

Lt. O’Neil said three multi-jurisdictional high-visibility OWI task forces in Dane County work year around to stop impaired drivers through special enforcement efforts.

Middleton Police Chief Troy Hellenbrand, president, Dane County Chiefs of Police Association, emphasized the benefit of all the agencies working together. “This effort brings together larger and
smaller law enforcement agencies across the county at one time with one purpose: to save lives and reduce injuries on our county roadways.

“We cannot overstate the importance of abstaining from driving after using alcohol or drugs,” Chief Hellenbrand said. “This enforcement campaign helps us get the message out that driving under the influence is illegal and takes lives. Help us put an end to these needless tragedies.”

Hee-Soo Jung, MD, FACS, FCCM, trauma surgeon, UW Health, and associate professor of surgery, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said serious injuries from motor vehicle crashes represent the second highest patient population annually at the UW Health Level I Adult Trauma Center. “Increasingly, these crashes involve alcohol or substance use impaired driving,” he said. “They affect the healthcare teams who care for patients, from first responders at the scene, to emergency department teams, and trauma surgeons, nurses, and hospital staff.

“It is distressing to watch the rapidly growing rate of such crashes, the worry of family members, as well as the anguish and guilt of the impaired driver. The injuries we see are often complex and result in lifelong complications, are lifechanging, and too often life-ending.”

No one knows that better than John Miller, whose son, Jack, and two friends lost their lives in a horrific 2021 crash in the Town of Middleton.

“Our lives are irreparably damaged without our son, Jack, and we miss him every day. It hurts,” said Miller. “What I didn’t expect was not only the impact on his friends but also his high school and the broader Madison community. Other families should not have to feel the pain that our families will endure the rest of our lives.”

2023: Deadly for Motorcycle Crashes in Dane County

Originally Released: November 13, 2023.

The third quarter this year was significantly more deadly for motorcyclists in Dane County. From July through September, five people died in four motorcycle crashes, according to a new report from the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC), a 48-member coalition of law enforcement and other agencies which meets quarterly to monitor traffic crash data.

Cheryl Wittke, TSC co-chair and executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, said these four motorcycle crashes accounted for half of all motor vehicle crashes during those three months and more than half of all fatalities.

Through October this year, Dane County experienced 98 motorcycle crashes, with 6 fatalities and 76 injuries, which already exceeds 2022’s year-end totals of 87 crashes, 2 fatalities and 55 injuries.

Randy Wiessinger, TSC member and Law Enforcement Liaison/Consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety and Technical Services, emphasized it’s not just Dane County.

“So far this year, 98 fatal motorcycle crashes across Wisconsin have resulted in 101 deaths,” he said. “In two thirds of those deaths, the driver was not wearing a helmet. The good weather has brought more motorcycles out on the road, and we’re seeing more in northern Wisconsin than before. Eleven of the 98 fatalities so far have involved motorcycle-deer collisions.”

Lt. Jen Hannah, TSC member and supervisor of Madison Police Department Traffic and Specialized Services had the difficult task of reporting motorcycle traffic fatalities at the recent Traffic Safety Commission meeting since all happened in Madison.

“All of the crashes, except for one, involved riders 30 years old or younger, Lt. Hannah said. “It’s so sad their lives were cut short, and families and friends left to grieve their loss.” She said she’ll never forget one motorcycle crash a few years ago in which the driver’s father came to the scene, not knowing his son had died. “It was heartbreaking. The medical examiner had not given him the official death notification, but he knew. My heart broke for him.

“Speeding was involved in most of the motorcycle deaths,” she added. “One driver was going 130 mph. Speeding poses not only a risk to motorcyclists but endangers everyone using the roads,
including bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Wittke noted that motorcycles involve extra risk compared with passenger vehicles, including less driver and passenger protection in a crash. “The chances of dying in a motorcycle crash are five
times higher than in a car. But it’s possible to reduce the risk without diminishing the joys and thrills that define motorcycling,” she said. “One of the easiest ways is to wear a properly fitted, DOT-compliant helmet,” she said, noting that in Wisconsin, helmets are required only for riders and passengers under 18. “Drivers also need to always ride sober and obey speed limits.”

Wittke said that newer automobile crash avoidance systems such as automatic emergency braking and left turn assist can help avoid crashes with motorcyclists, but many older vehicles don’t
have those. A newer innovation is automatic braking systems (ABS) on motorcycles, which are required in many countries but not in the U.S. where one-third of all newly sold motorcycles are not equipped with ABS.

“Car and truck drivers also need to watch out for motorcycles, especially when turning at intersections. Safe driving and riding practices by all road users will help reduce the number of tragic
motorcycle fatalities and injuries on our county’s roads,” Wittke said.

African Americans, Latinos at Greater Risk in Traffic Crashes

Originally Released: October 23, 2023.

It’s a Dane County fact. African Americans and Latinos are at greater risk of dying or suffering serious injuries in traffic crashes.

To improve driver and pedestrian safety in communities of color, the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC), in partnership with Safe Communities of Madison-Dane
County, has begun a new yard sign campaign reminding all motorists to drive more
safely in neighborhoods. Cropping up around Madison and surrounding communities this week are yard signs depicting a young child, on one side cautioning drivers, “I Am Loved: Please Slow Down” and on the other side, “You Are Loved! Please Buckle Up.” Signs are in both English and Spanish. Madison artist, author, educator, and non-profit leader Lilada Gee created the sign graphic.

Cheryl Wittke, TSC co-chair and executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, said that in the most recent quarter monitored by the Traffic Safety Commission, over half of traffic crash fatalities involved African Americans, Latinos or Asians.

“In 2023, we’re seeing an acceleration of a trend we have found in recent years,” she said. “In 2022, people of color accounted for 31% of all injuries and fatalities in the county, while representing 21.7% of the population.” Wittke said these numbers include not just drivers but also passengers, bicyclists, or pedestrians struck by vehicles.

“Every crash has the potential of changing lives and families forever,” said Itina Johnson, African American Opioid Coalition and Traffic Safety Project Coordinator with Safe Communities. “These signs are just one step we all can take to keep this issue in front of motorists. It’s not just about people of color. These signs are good words of advice to keep everyone safer in and around our county roadways.”

Wittke said the signs are being introduced now for the added benefit of keeping children and families safer as an increased number of people walk neighborhoods at Halloween.

“Halloween nationally is one of the top three days for pedestrian injuries and fatalities,” Wittke said. “The CDC estimates that children are four times more likely to be struck by a motor vehicle on
Halloween than any other day of the year.”

Community organizations are helping distribute the yard signs. These include the Urban League, Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, Reach Dane, Common Wealth Development, African American Council of Churches, Catholic Multicultural Center, Madison Police Amigos en Azul, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. – Kappa Psi Omega Chapter, Northside Planning Council, Safe Kids Madison Area, Neighborhood Navigators of Sun Prairie, and Sun Prairie Police.

Teran Peterson, Neighborhood Navigators Program Manager for the City of Sun Prairie, said this sign program fits perfectly with their work. “We emphasize outreach activities targeted to community needs. Keeping our residents and neighborhoods safe is a major focus,” she said.

“We’re placing the signs in the yards of businesses, churches, private homes and apartment complexes,” Johnson said. “We’re working especially hard to get the signs out in neighborhoods frequented by people of color.”

TSC Member and AAA Wisconsin Director of Public Affairs Nick Jarmusz offered the following additional AAA top tips for safer neighborhood driving at Halloween:

  • Designate a navigator. If you need to check a map, take pictures, or do anything that will take your attention off the road, pull over or delegate those tasks to a passenger.
  • Remain seated and buckled. Everyone in the vehicle should remain seated and buckled at all times, even when parked on the side of the road.
  • Drive at least 5 mph below the posted speed limit to give yourself extra time to react to children who might dart into the street.
  • Watch for children walking on roadways and streets in dark costumes (harder to see at night).
  • Look for children crossing the street. They may not be paying attention to traffic and cross the street mid-block or between parked cars.
  • Carefully enter and exit driveways and alleys.
  • Turn on your headlights to make your vehicle more visible.
  • Broaden your scanning by looking for children left and right.

For trick-or-treaters, AAA recommends:

  • Be bright at night: wear light-colored clothing or costumes to improve visibility to motorists and others. If unavailable, use reflective tape on costumes and treat buckets.
  • Wear disguises that don’t obstruct vision. Avoid facemasks.
  • Ensure any props are flexible and blunt-tipped to avoid injury.
  • Carry a flashlight containing fresh batteries
  • Stay on sidewalks and avoid walking in streets if possible (always walk facing traffic and stay as far to the left of the roadway as possible).
  • Don’t walk distracted. Save the social media updates for before or after you go trick-or-treating. Avoid checking your phone while walking or supervising children.

Signs and Increased Enforcement Remind Drivers to SLOW DOWN for Students

Originally Released: September 7th, 2023.

With schools in session, all Dane County law enforcement agencies are teaming up with each other, the Wisconsin State Patrol, area communities and the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC) to urge drivers to keep children and adolescents safe. The collaboration includes free SLOW DOWN yard signs for residents and businesses and increased surveillance
for speeding and other risky driving from September 11-15.

“We all see motorists speeding through neighborhoods, running stop signs, ignoring crosswalks, or driving while checking their phones,” said Matt Wagner, Cottage Grove Police lieutenant and co-chair of the TSC’s law enforcement subgroup. “Always dangerous behaviors, these are even more alarming when more kids are out walking, biking or skateboarding to and from school. Traffic can be especially congested around schools, and frustrated motorists are more likely to demonstrate unsafe driving behaviors.

“Kids may be crossing busy streets, learning routes to a new school, rushing to start the day or get home, looking at their phones, or chatting with friends. We have to watch out for their safety, even while parents warn them how to watch for inattentive drivers,” Lt. Wagner said.

“The SLOW DOWN signs are an ongoing reminder to look out for children and all pedestrians. Of course, people driving should exercise caution, regardless of whether they’re near a school or not. We hope reminders of safe driving practices during this especially critical start-of-school time will reduce traffic injuries and fatalities all year.”

The faster vehicles travel, the more likely crashes will occur, according to Cheryl Wittke, TSC co-chair and executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County. “Children are especially vulnerable because of their size and inexperience.” Wittke said that when a child is hit by a vehicle going 40 mph, 85% of crashes are fatal.

According to TSC member Rishelle Eithun, Pediatric Injury Prevention Manager at UW Health Kids, pedestrian injuries are the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths among children 5 to 14 in the United States. Each year, nearly 900 children ages 14 and younger die from pedestrian injuries, and another 24,000 are injured in traffic-related crashes.

Eithun said, “It’s a significant problem, for example, based on what we have experienced at UW Health. In the last five years, 35 children and adolescents have been treated for injuries at UW Health hospitals as a result of a vehicle striking a pedestrian, and 16 from running into a bicycle. Injuries sustained in pedestrian crashes were far more severe. Nine of the injuries were “profound,” the most serious types of injuries, and two children died. The majority are teens: of those killed or injured, 51% were aged 12 to 17, 35% were 6-11 and 14% were five or younger.”

Eithun added that it’s not just a Madison problem. Eighty-four percent of the 51 injured children
were hurt in communities outside Madison.

Drivers also need to do their part to keep kids safe, Lt. Wagner said. He recommends:

  • Obey speed limits, usually 15 mph in school zones but subject to local regulation.
  • Slow down and exercise caution when kids are walking, biking, or skateboarding.
  • Stop for stopped school buses; never pass them.
  • Watch for crossing guards.
  • Approach all crosswalks and intersections with caution. Never go around a vehicle stopped
    at a crosswalk.

Participating in this program are the Wisconsin State Patrol and all Dane County police departments: Belleville, Blue Mounds, Cottage Grove, Cross Plains, DeForest, Fitchburg, Madison, Maple Bluff, Marshall, McFarland, Middleton, Monona, Mount Horeb, Oregon, Shorewood Hills, Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Verona, and Waunakee. Also participating is the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, providing law enforcement services to Black Earth, Brooklyn, Cambridge/Deerfield, Cottage Grove (town), Dunn, Mazomanie, Middleton (town), Westport/Dane, Windsor, and other outlying communities.

The Slow Down yard sign and increased traffic enforcement effort is a countywide collaborative effort among law enforcement agencies, community groups promoting safer driving, Dane County Traffic Safety Commission, Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and Vision Zero – Madison.

Traffic Crashes with Injuries on the Rise in Road Construction Work Zones

Originally Released: August 17, 2023.

Dane County is experiencing significantly more construction work zone crashes this year in which motorists are injured, according to a report from the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC).

Randy Wiessinger, TSC member and Law Enforcement Liaison/Consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety, said, “So far in the first seven months this year, we have seen 27 crashes in which motorists were injured in Dane County work zones, compared to a total of 24 all of last year. Thankfully, so far this year there have been no deaths, but, tragically, last year we experienced one death in a work zone crash.”

Wiessinger noted that in Dane County last year there were 135 total work zone crashes. Work zone crashes in 2023 year-to-date total 93 and, like those involving injuries, also are expected to exceed last year’s total, he said.

As area drivers maneuver around the many orange cones, lane restrictions and road closures, the 48-member Dane County Traffic Safety Commission is issuing a reminder to drive safely in work zones. In the past five years, Wisconsin saw 11,678 work zone crashes, which resulted in 63 deaths and 4,370 injuries, according to Wiessinger. To put that into perspective, he said, during last year’s construction season, there was one work zone crash every four hours in the state. In Wisconsin, the typical construction season is April through November.

“Increased funding for road construction in recent years has led to a significant increase in the number of road projects. Simultaneously, increased traffic volumes and driver frustration have led to an increased likelihood of work zone injuries and deaths,” Wiessinger said.

Matt Meyer, TSC co-chair and sergeant with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office said the most common crash in a highway work zone is a rear-end collision. Leading causes are speeding, tailgating and distracted driving.

“That’s why we recommend those driving through a work zone maintain a separation of at least five seconds between them and the vehicle they are following,” Sgt. Meyer said.

“Work zones are not there to inconvenience you. They are necessary to improve the roads for everyone. And those men and women working in the zones are putting their own lives at risk. They too have lives and families and we owe it to them to drive cautiously.”

Sgt. Meyer provided these tips for reducing the risks to drivers and work zone workers:

  • Slow down. Observe speed limit signs, even if traffic is moving smoothly.
  • Be alert to changing traffic patterns.
  • Leave space between your vehicle and workers or equipment when possible.
  • Expect delays; leave early to reach your destination on time.
  • Check for route delays on your smartphone map before you leave home.
  • If lanes are closed ahead, merge into open lanes as soon as possible.
  •  When possible, avoid work zones altogether.

Meyer also reminds drivers that, while it may be tempting, it is against Wisconsin law to use hand-held devices such as smartphones in a work zone except to report an emergency.

You and Your Car, Stay Safe This Winter!

“Last winter 147 people died in traffic crashes in Wisconsin. Are your winter driving skills sharp? Is your car ready for the ice, snow, and cold? Is your winter travel safety kit fresh and in your car? Join Neil McCallum, the Driver Safety Coordinator at AARP Wisconsin, for an informative winter driving safety update that just may help you stay warm and out of the ditch this winter. Email TriadEvents@rsvpdane.org for the Zoom link.”

Traffic Crashes Down, Fatalities Up in 2022

Person driving in a car
For Immediate Release
For more information, contact: Cheryl Wittke, Executive Director, Safe Communities of Madison – Dane County,  (608) 256-6713

Traffic Crashes Down, Fatalities Up in 2022

 Forty-four persons lost their lives in 1,770 Dane County injury-related motor vehicle crashes last year, according to preliminary data from the Traffic Safety Commission (TSC), which reviews county crash data reported by police departments and the WI State Patrol. Compared to the previous 5 year average, in 2022 the number of crashes with injuries decreased 22% and the number of fatalities increased 24%. “This is an alarming trend,” said Cheryl Wittke, executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County and TSC co-chair. “It should be a wake-up call to everyone to think about how to stay safer when using Dane County streets and highways to ensure this trend doesn’t continue.” In 2022, Dane County experienced 8,914 total motor vehicle crashes, of which 20% involved injuries or deaths.

One positive trend from 2022 data reported at the recent TSC meeting was a significant decrease in injuries and deaths from motorcycle crashes. “Last year, two persons died in motorcycle crashes, compared to a five-year average of six. This bucks a national trend of increasing motorcyclist fatalities,” noted TSC member Randy Wiessinger, Law Enforcement Liaison/Consultant with Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety. Non-fatal injuries from motorcycle crashes were down 41%.

The 48-member Dane County Traffic Safety Commission conducts crash reviews quarterly. For October – December 2022, most fatal traffic crashes were outside Madison, consistent with the entire year. Four were in the City of Madison, and the others in the City of Verona, Village of Maple Bluff, and Towns of Sun Prairie, Burke, Roxbury, Deerfield, Rutland, Dunn and Dunkirk.

One notable quarterly trend was that an increasing number of Dane County drivers were killed in crashes when there was rain, snow, slush, or ice on the roads. Deaths also increased from driver failure to stop at red lights and stop signs. Nearly half (6) of the thirteen Dane County crashes resulting in fatalities last quarter involved poor weather-related road conditions or running a red light or stop sign. Wittke noted this increase is consistent with a trend in all of 2022. “Last year, thirteen people lost their lives in crashes when weather had negatively affected road conditions, compared to a previous five-year average of seven. Six died in crashes when a driver failed to stop at a stop sign or red light, significantly higher than the previous five-year average of one, and the highest number since 2016,” Wittke said.

Trends on running red lights in Dane County mirror those cited in a recent national survey from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, showing drivers self-reporting a 12% increase in red-light running from 2020 to 2021. 

 “Running a red light or stop sign is a driver’s choice,” noted Wittke. “And so is driving too fast around an icy curve or not fully cleaning snow off windshields and mirrors. We can control what we do as drivers, but we cannot control the behavior of others. This all points to the need for more defensive driving by each of us.” Wittke said in the 13 fatal crashes this past quarter, four of the deaths were of persons who were pedestrians or riding in a vehicle other than the one causing a crash. “Whether driving, running or walking, we need to be extra vigilant during inclement weather and at intersections.” She noted that in a previous traffic count at a busy Madison intersection, motorists ran red lights once every 30 seconds. 

“Dane County TSC members are collaborating with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Traffic Safety on new county-wide strategies to be announced shortly,” Wittke said. “By working together, we can have even a stronger impact.”

####

The Facts:

  • In 2022 there were 8,914 motor vehicle crashes in Dane County. Twenty percent (1770) resulted in injury or death.
  • In 2022, 38 crashes resulted in 44 fatalities. This was the second deadliest year in the last five.
  • The number of crash fatalities in 2022 increased 24% from the previous five-year average even while the total number of all injury-related crashes was 22% lower.
  • The most significant 2022 improvement was a decrease in injuries and deaths from motorcycle and bicycle crashes. Last year, two persons died in motorcycle crashes, compared to a five-year average of 6. Three pedestrians were killed compared to a five-year average of 7. All motorcycle injuries were down 41% and bicycle-related injuries down 27%.
  • In 2022, 6 persons died in crashes when a driver failed to stop at a stop sign or stop light, compared to a previous five-year average of only 1.
  • In 2022, 13 died in crashes when weather negatively affected road conditions, compared to a previous five-year average of 7.
  • Of the 13 fatal crashes during the fourth quarter of 2022 (October-December):
    • 4 fatalities were pedestrians or riders in vehicles other than the one causing the crash.
    • 3 involved drivers running a red light or stop sign.
    • 3 involved poor weather conditions (snow, ice, slush, water, fog).
    • 25% were unrestrained; 25% were teen or senior drivers; and 33% involved alcohol.

* * * * * * * * *

Potential Interviewees:

The following may be contacted for comment directly:

  • Crash trends and Traffic Safety Commission role/membership: Cheryl Wittke, Exec. Director, Safe Communities of Madison – Dane County and TSC co-chair. cwittke@safercommunity.net, (608) 256-6713
  • Motorcycle crash trends: Randy Wiessinger, WI Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety; contact through DOT Office of Public Affairs, exec@dot.wi.gov, (608) 266-3581.
  • Traffic crash data/trends: Jeremy Kloss, Program and Policy Analyst, WI Bureau of Transportation Safety and Technical Services; contact through DOT Office of Public Affairs, exec@dot.wi.gov, (608) 266-3581.
  • AAA study on red light running and tips for driving in bad weather: Nick Jarmusz, AAA Wisconsin, njjarmusz@acg.aaa.com, (608) 556-4744.

Two-thirds of Dane County Fatal Crashes Involve No Seatbelts or Helmets

For Immediate Release

For more information, contact: Cheryl Wittke, (608) 256-6713 Executive Director, Safe Communities of Madison – Dane County

Two-thirds of Dane County Fatal Crashes Involve No Seatbelts or Helmets

Two-thirds of Dane County motor vehicle crashes involving fatalities from July to September this year resulted in deaths of persons not wearing seat belts or motorcycle or bicycle helmets. This alarming trend triggered an urgent reminder from members of the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC) for area residents to remember to use life-saving measures.

The nine crashes during the third quarter of 2022 resulted in 11 deaths, according to a recent report by the TSC, a coalition of 48 county public and private organizations meeting quarterly to monitor and improve traffic safety.
“Most of the deaths involving lack of seat belts or helmets may have been preventable with the use of these safety devices,” said Sgt. Matt Meyer, Dane County Sheriff’s Office and TSC co-chair, who noted the group quarterly monitors all fatal crashes in the county, including use of seat belts and helmets. “It is alarming that seatbelt usage in the state dropped to 88.2% last year after reaching a high of 90% in 2019.”

The most recent TSC report recorded three crashes where a driver or passenger died not wearing a seat belt, required by Wisconsin law. Three other crashes involved motorcyclists, bicyclists or moped riders not wearing helmets.

Five of the nine fatal crashes occurred outside Madison: in the city of Sun Prairie and towns of Bristol, Burke, Medina and Windsor.

TSC member Sgt. Adam Zoch, Wisconsin State Patrol, said law enforcement agencies notice drivers of older vehicles are less likely to buckle up since they don’t get the audio reminder beeps. Also less likely to buckle up are those traveling short distances, he said. “Those just going down the street to the grocery store or going at lower speeds sometimes don’t bother. But that doesn’t take into account behavior of other drivers who may be speeding, impaired by alcohol or drugs, or driving distracted.”

One local physician has seen this happen all too often. “I wish I could help people understand that it’s usually the routine day-to-day driving when fatal crashes happen,” said Hee Soo Jung, MD, Director of Surgical Critical Care for UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “Most are at speeds under 40 and within 24 miles from their home. It’s never when we expect it.”

That’s one of the reasons seventeen TSC-member law enforcement agencies use grant funding from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for officer overtime to conduct high-visibility traffic enforcement monitoring seat belt use, along with speeding and impaired driving. Agencies alert the public ahead of time in hopes of achieving voluntary compliance and encouraging positive driving habits. Local police departments receiving these grants often coordinate their efforts between communities.

“There is a clear relationship between not using seatbelts and the likelihood of dying or being severely injured in a crash,” TSC Co-chair Matt Meyer said. “Persons not wearing seatbelts in Wisconsin were seven times more likely to die and three times more likely to suffer a serious injury in a traffic crash.”

In his role as a trauma surgeon, Dr. Jung has plenty of experience to know that is true. “When I hear an EMS report that someone coming in did not wear a helmet or a seat belt, I prepare myself to take care of injuries that are much worse.” He said unbelted motorists often experience more traumatic injuries from being thrown around or being ejected from the vehicle, and motorcycle riders without helmets are much more likely to have severe brain injury and facial fractures.

TSC Co-chair Meyer noted that in the last three years, two of every three (64%) of persons dying in Dane County motorcycle accidents were not wearing a helmet.

“The hardest cases for me are the ones where people–with so much left in their lives–are taken from us too early because of preventable trauma,” said Dr. Jung. “It’s my job to give patients and their families bad news. I get that. But if I had one wish, it would be that I never have to sit with your family, in that quiet room, to tell them with a broken heart that you didn’t make it.”

Helmet use is also a major factor in deaths of bicyclists involved in crashes. TSC Co-Chair Meyer said of bicyclists dying in Dane County crashes over the past six years, 80% were not wearing helmets.
Adam Brinkman, MD, Pediatric Trauma Director at American Family Children’s Hospital, stressed the importance of not only wearing a helmet but one that fits well. “A properly fitting helmet will absorb force when a moving head strikes a stationary object, such as the ground, a pole, or a car. Helmets are designed to cushion the skull and brain, which, if not protected, can suffer serious injuries. We have taken care of many patients who failed to wear a bike helmet since they were ‘just going around the block’ or ‘to a friend’s house down the road.’ Helmets save heads!” he said.

* * * * * * * * *

The Facts:

• Crashes involving motorists not wearing seatbelts represented 10% of all Dane County crashes and 42% of all deaths in the first nine months of 2022. (Source: WisDOT Crash Database)
• Over the past six years, the majority (59%) of unbelted drivers and passengers involved in crashes involving death or injury were 16 to 35-year-olds. (Source: WisDOT Crash Database)
• In a six-county area including Dane, those with lower-than-average rates of seatbelt use are males (84.5%), young drivers aged 16-24 (82.6%), pickup drivers (82.9%) and local motorists not on highways or interstates (82.5%). (Source: 2020 WisDOT Annual Seatbelt Survey)
• In the last 3 years in Dane County, 273 motorcyclists were killed or injured. Of these, 64% were not wearing helmets. (Source: WisDOT Crash Database)
• Of Dane County bicyclists over the past six years injured in a crash, those aged 5 to 24 were least likely to be wearing a helmet. (Source: WisDOT Crash Database)

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Potential Interviewees: The following may be contacted for comment directly:
1) Crash trends and Traffic Safety Commission: Sgt. Matt Meyer, Dane County Sheriff’s Office, co-chair, Dane County Traffic Safety Commission, meyer.matt@danesherriff.com (608) 284-6876.
2) Traffic Safety Commission role/membership: Cheryl Wittke, Exec. Director, Safe Communities of Madison – Dane County and TSC co-chair. cwittke@safercommunity.net, (608) 256-6713.
3) Law enforcement agency experience with seat belts, helmets, WisDOT traffic grants: Sgt. Adam Zoch, Wisconsin State Patrol, adaml.zoch@dot.wi.gov, (414) 477-0421.
4) Seatbelts and associated crash injuries: Hee Soo Jung, MD, Director Surgical Critical Care, UW School of Medicine and Public Health, jung@surgery.wisc.edu, (608) 262-6246.
5) Bicycle helmets and associated crash injuries: Adam Brinkman, MD, Pediatric Trauma Director, American Family Children’s Hospital, brinkman@surgery.wisc.edu, (608) 262-0466.

Drunken driving crashes spike in Dane County; at least 11 killed in first half of 2022

This article originally appeared on Madison.com and can be found here.
Chris Hubbuch | Wisconsin State Journal

Drunken driving crashes — including at least 11 fatalities — rose sharply during the first half of 2022, according to a new report.

There were 80 automobile crashes between January and June involving alcohol, 41% more than the five-year average, according to the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission, a coalition of public and private organizations working to improve traffic safety.

While the commission is continuing to analyze the data, co-chair Cheryl Wittke said the rise in drunken driving correlates with an increase in drinking since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

“There’s just been an overall spike in alcohol use,” Wittke said.

Of 16 fatal crashes this year, 11 involved drivers whose blood alcohol levels exceeded the legal limit of 0.08%, in some cases by up to three times. Wittke said the actual number of alcohol-related fatalities is likely higher because of the time it takes to get lab results on blood drawn after a crash.

Wittke, who also serves as executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, said the commission is working on prevention strategies to be rolled out this fall. “We believe it’s preventable,” she said.

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office and 13 police departments have grant funding from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety to cover overtime for high-visibility traffic enforcement efforts aimed at curbing dangerous driving.

But Wittke said law enforcement alone can’t solve the problem. Across all age groups, Wisconsin has the highest rate of excessive drinking in the nation, said Maureen Busalacchi, director of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project, which provides training and technical assistance to help communities address excessive drinking. And while the definition of binge drinking is generally four to five drinks in a two-hour period, Busalacchi said data show Wisconsinites are typically having nine drinks in a setting.

“We live in a state where heavy drinking has become normalized,” said Brian Dunleavy, whose 20-year-old son, Conor, was killed in 2012 when the car he was riding in was struck by an intoxicated driver going 100 mph on his way from one bar to another.

Lawren Prisk, 52, served seven years in prison for the crash. “I grew up in a household where my parents were big entertainers,” Dunleavy said. “We watched adults, you know, drinking a lot. They were all professional people. We thought that was OK.”

The Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project has developed strategies to reduce binge drinking by identifying bars that routinely over-serve customers, as well as community festivals that overemphasize drinking. “There needs to be community support and buy-in,” Busalacchi said. “Our civic organizations can play an important role in terms of the standards they set.”

Dunleavy, a retired Madison school teacher who now lives in Milwaukee, said with the availability of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft there’s no excuse for drinking and driving.

“I’m not asking people not to drink,” he said. “You need to have that game plan in place before you set out on the night. Your executive functioning definitely goes south after a few beers.”