Milwaukeeans Getting Worse at Driving
Crashes up 51% since 2009. Is cell phone use by drivers helping drive numbers?
Your eyes are not deceiving you, the data shows Milwaukeeans are getting worse at driving. Crashes involving motor vehicles in the city are up 51 percent from 2009 to 2018.
Fatalities from crashes rose from 31 in 2009 to 57 in 2018, although that number was down from a 2015 and 2017 high of 64. Incapacitating injuries rose from 214 to 338 over the same period.
According to a report from the Milwaukee Police Department presented to the Public Safety and Health Committee, the number of crashes has grown steadily from 10,811 in 2009 to 16,338 in 2018. This includes crashes where no ticket was issued and the individuals involved submitted a report to the department.
Those not in motor vehicles didn’t fare any better. Pedestrian fatalities rose from four in 2009 to 17 in 2018. However, the number of crashes involving pedestrians did fall from 147 to 123 in the same period, while crashes involving bicycles rose slightly from 416 to 434.
“We need public education in this area,” said Alderman Terry Witkowski. At least one of his colleagues disagrees. “It’s not about education. It’s about really putting the hammer down,” said Ald. Mark Borkowski.
Alderwoman Chantia Lewis pushed for a marketing campaign, which department representatives said was planned for June. Committee chair Ald. Robert Donovan pushed to double the number of motorcycle officers in the city.
If the city does pursue an education or marketing campaign, they should consider designing it for cell phone screens as that’s where officials believe people are looking while they are driving. “Anecdotally, inattentive driving is a problem,” said Assistant Chief Michael Brunson. He said the department relies on people to self-report if they were on their phone, because the department lacks expensive technology that some cities have to recreate what drivers were doing with their phones. Subpoenas would also need to be issued to cell phone companies to access data.
But the data on crashes doesn’t exactly back up Brunson’s anecdotal conclusion. In 2009, 2,066 crashes were reported as caused by inattentive driving and that number rose to 2,859 in 2016, but then declined markedly: 2017 and 2018 only show 684 and 788 crashes caused by inattentive driving. That might suggest that people aren’t honestly self-reporting their cell-phone use.
Hit-and-run incidents have risen from 2,961 (27.4 percent of crashes) to 5,246 (32.1 percent of crashes) from 2009 to 2018. “Disregard traffic control” incidents, meaning the driver ran a stop sign or traffic light, have grown from 853 (7.9 percent) incidents to 1,672 (10.2 percent) from 2009 to 2018. Speeding, according to incident reports, has grown from 1,009 incidents (9.3 percent) to 1,781 (10.8 percent) during that period.
On a percentage basis, the number of incidents involving alcohol has fallen from 3.8 to 3 percent from 2009 to 2018, but the total number has grown from 412 to 493. A similar pattern can be found with failure to yield incidents, dropping slightly from 21.1 to 20.4 percent, but the total number has grown from 2,296 to 3,334.
Department representatives said they hope to work with Department of Public Works officials and other stakeholders to improve the intersections’ designs as part of the city’s recently-adopted Complete Streets policy.
Ald. Michael Murphy is leading the recently created City-County Carjacking and Reckless Driving Task Force which hopes to make an impact on the problem.
“Using the media to tell people what is going on has a multiplier effect,” concluded Witkowski.
Okay, we’ll do our best at Urban Milwaukee. Dear readers, I’m telling you to slow down and pay attention, get off those cell phones while driving — and pass this on.
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Related Legislation: File 190095