WisDOT: Alcohol-related road deaths down 47% from decade ago

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

August 9, 2014

MADISON - New data from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation shows drunk-driving deaths statewide have fallen dramatically over the last decade.

In a letter released Friday, WisDOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb reported there were 185 fatalities from alcohol-related crashes on Wisconsin roads in 2013 — a 47 percent drop from 2003 when there were 348 drunk-driving deaths.

“We are having an impact on the way people are behaving,” said David Pabst, the director of the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety. “Over the last 10 years we have had mobilizations of law enforcement and educational efforts so I think people are being smarter about it, and also there is an actual chance that you are going to get stopped if you are not driving sober.”

While drunk-driving deaths are down in Wisconsin, the total number of traffic fatalities in Waukesha County in 2014 is on pace to be above the average over the past five years.

Through Aug. 4, there have already been 22 deaths on Waukesha roads, which is equal to the average number of deaths seen each year from 2009-13, according to WisDOT data. Only Milwaukee County (34) has seen a higher total of traffic-related deaths in 2014.

Gottlieb’s letter reported that the total number of injuries from alcohol-related cases had dropped even more significantly — from 6,445 in 2003 to 2,660 in 2013 — a 59 percent reduction. Total drunk-driving crashes also fell 45 percent from 9,007 in 2003 to 4,945 last year.

Although the news is encouraging, Gottlieb said that while deaths from drunken driving are completely preventable, law enforcement is unable to catch every impaired driver.

“To reduce drunken-driving crashes, we all must make a commitment to never drive while impaired and to stop loved ones and friends from driving when they’re not sober,” he wrote. “With everyone’s commitment, we can continue to make progress toward the goal of reducing the number of preventable traffic deaths to ‘Zero in Wisconsin.’” According to the letter, law enforcement agencies statewide will be increasing their patrols from Aug. 15 to Sept. 1 at part of the annual “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” program.

Pabst said the campaign includes over 400 agencies nationwide.