Our Views: Driving safely could keep you from being statistic

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Maybe we’re starting to heed the messages.

Buckle up. Slow down and drive attentively. Stay sober.

It won’t comfort anyone who lost a loved one, but preliminary figures show just 527 people died in accidents in 2013, the fewest since 526 died way back in 1944. Wisconsin fatalities had been rising since 2009, and crashes killed 601 people in 2012. The state also had 19,000 fewer crashes overall last year.

Rock County had 11 fatalities in 2013, the fewest in at least five years. Walworth County also had 11, the fewest since four died in 2008, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“We know that the vast majority of serious crashes are caused by bad driving habits and irresponsible decisions,” state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb told the Journal Sentinel. “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.”

Other factors were at play, as well. Authorities say wintry weather reduced the 2013 motorcycle season. Eighty-four motorcyclists died last year, down from 116 in 2012. Pedestrian deaths also fell to 37 from 44 a year earlier.

Officials say seat belt compliance in Wisconsin is at 86 percent, the highest ever. That doesn’t explain, however, why surveys show 90 percent of motorists in Illinois buckle up yet 973 people lost their lives on Illinois roads last year, the most since 2008.

Of course, if you’ve been on the Interstate and watched as Illinois license plates disappear in the distance, one after another, you’re well aware of Flatlander driving habits. Again, perhaps Wisconsin’s 2013 fatality statistics suggest more motorists here are inclined to drive safely.

Still, it’s not news that some Wisconsin drivers are anything but safe. Not when we repeatedly read of drunken drivers being arrested for their fourth, fifth or sixth offenses and state laws to halt these menaces remain lax.

State officials have yet to assess how big a role drunken driving played in 2013 crash statistics. They do know, however, that alcohol played roles in more than 40 percent of accidents from 2008-12.

That’s a sobering number and one worth keeping in mind as you and loved ones try to keep from being included in 2014 accident statistics.

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