The number of traffic crashes associated with distracted driving is on the rise in Wisconsin, including the number of fatal accidents.
More than 24,000 crashes involving a distracted driver occurred in 2015, compared with nearly 22,200 crashes in 2014, USA Today Network-Wisconsin reported. About 10,600 people were injured and 94 were killed in the 2015 crashes, while about 9,700 people were injured and 72 were killed in 2014.
The advent of cellphones and the constant upgrading of electronic devices have contributed to the increase in distracted driving, said David Pabst, director of safety at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, who as a state patrolman witnessed firsthand the dangers of inattentive driving.
Pabst was involved in a case in which a woman was driving erratically on a road in St. Croix County because she was holding her sick pet iguana on her lap as she made her way to a veterinarian’s office.
High on his list of priorities at the state transportation department is making progress against the serious, and potentially fatal, problem of inattentive driving.
“People are not concentrating on driving, they are doing everything but,” said Pabst.
Districted driving includes reading or sending text messages and emails, talking on a cellphone, reading maps, applying makeup, combing hair, eating and tending to children in the backseat of a vehicle.
Jason Weber, community liaison officer with the Town of Menasha Police Department, said “a good segment” of crashes in the Fox Cities “can be attributed to distracted or inattentive driving.”
“All of our lives are busy, but we must remember to keep our focus on the roads when driving. I am sure many of us have experienced a `near-miss’ and that is pretty scary and eye-opening. But that fear seems to only last the rest of that trip and we revert back to our old habits,” Weber said.
About 87 percent of drivers engaged in at least one risky behavior while behind the wheel within the past month, according to a recent report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Commission estimates that distracted driving is a factor in at least 3,000 deaths per year.
Weber acknowledges that it won’t be easy to address the problem of distracted driving, but he believes the solution will come down to drivers establishing better habits rather than simply passing laws. He hopes the public will be able to adopt safer driving habits like it did when the seatbelt law took effect years ago.
“I would like to think the same will apply to the next generation and the use of electronic devices in cars,” he said. “If we starting setting the example now, hopefully that culture will change.”