A 24-year-old woman died after traveling at excessive speed westbound in eastbound traffic on I94. A driver died and three passengers were injured when their car crashed and started on fire. A 43-year-old man died after his vehicle crossed the center line and hit another vehicle, injuring that driver.

These are just a handful of incidents in the news that underscore a tragic problem: An epidemic of reckless driving in Wisconsin that is killing not only reckless drivers but also people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Unfortunately, the issue of reckless driving is not a new conversation in southeastern Wisconsin. Discussions centering on reckless driving have been ongoing for several years.

Waukesha mirrors an alarming increase in crashes and fatalities throughout the state. In 2019, Waukesha County had the third highest number of motor vehicle crashes in Wisconsin. In 2020, Waukesha County tied for sixth place in the number of motor vehicle fatalities.

The COVID-19 Effect

What is driving the surge in reckless driving in Wisconsin?

We speculate that the pandemic and its ripple effects loom large in the context of increases in reckless driving. Froedtert Hospital 2020 data show that hospitalizations stemming from car crashes (not limited to reckless driving incidents) increased 19%.

Officials theorize that emptier roads during the pandemic have encouraged not only reckless driving but also drivers traveling at higher speeds. Another factor could be a decline in traffic stops in many states, which would include stops for reckless driving.

Reckless Driving’s Impact on Lives

While it is difficult to pin down, a Wisconsin Policy Forum study reports a number of statistics that could reflect the consequences of reckless driving and other driving behaviors during the COVID pandemic. The study showed that alcohol-related driving fatalities in Wisconsin increased 50% in 2020 compared with 2019. Deaths in crashes where vehicle occupants were not wearing seatbelts rose 24% during the same period. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report reflected the same trends nationwide.

If you are involved in a crash caused by reckless driving, you could experience head and brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, loss of vision, organ damage, injuries that require limb amputation or even loss of life.

How to Prevent Reckless Driving

We have probably all observed unsafe drivers speeding, weaving in and out of traffic and ignoring stop signs and traffic signals — common examples of reckless driving.

While there are no clear-cut solutions to stopping reckless driving in Wisconsin outright, efforts to stem the tide continue. For example, in October 2020, a Milwaukee task force on reckless driving released more than a dozen recommendations, including “traffic-calming” techniques like narrowing streets, which forces drivers to reduce speed; speed bumps; and more roundabout intersections. The task force also recommended higher median strips and more mid-street “refuge islands” for pedestrians, as well as public information campaigns and more funding for no or low cost driver’s education in schools.

Anyone can take steps to keep themselves safer, such as driving defensively and being alert when walking. Always observe your environment and give yourself time to react. This is a precaution for walkers as well as for drivers. Take the initiative to drive safer by wearing a seatbelt and ensuring that everyone in your vehicle is doing so. Don’t speed or engage in other reckless driving behaviors.

These are important measures everyone can take to avoid experiencing or causing serious injury or death.

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