Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukeeans Getting Worse at Driving

Crashes up 51% since 2009. Is cell phone use by drivers helping drive numbers?

By - Apr 25th, 2019 12:19 pm
Cleanup after a single-vehicle crash on E. Mason St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Cleanup after a single-vehicle crash on E. Mason St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

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.

The change in the department’s pursuit policy isn’t to blame for the entire increase. In 2018, 240 chases resulted in crashes, six of which were fatal.

“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.

If you want to prevent a crash, you might avoid W. Capitol Dr. Of the top 10 intersections for crashes, five of them involve W. Capitol Dr. The top two intersections are W. Capitol Dr. and N. Sherman Blvd. and W. Capitol Dr. and N. 35th St.

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.

Traffic fatalities are spread across the entire city. Ald. Nik Kovac‘s district, which includes the East Side and Riverwest, was the only aldermanic district without a traffic fatality in 2018.

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

3 thoughts on “Transportation: Milwaukeeans Getting Worse at Driving”

  1. frank a schneiger says:

    As a Milwaukee native and a regular visitor, I can confirm that drivers in Milwaukee are getting worse. In particular, they seem to view stop signs and red lights as driving tips or hints rather than a legal requirement. My experience is that education is a nice thing, but that what really works in getting people to obey the law is a good whack in the head, usually in the form of a predictable summons. And the most effective way to make it predictable is with traffic cameras at strategic intersections. They inevitably generate complaints about privacy violations and other forms of oppression from people who like rolling through stop signs or find it burdensome to even slow down before making a right turn on a red light. Too bad for them. The camera never lies, and lots fewer people will get mowed down.

  2. grndpakwh says:

    As a bike rider I have seen an alarming rise of total neglect for traffic laws. Red lights are mere suggestions, stop signs are ignored and bike lanes are no more than a right lane passing space. I was heartened to see the police radar on Appleton but a couple hours on a weekday afternoon does very little good.

  3. Thomas Martinsen says:

    My daughter’s car was rear-ended 4 ears ago on North Avenue by a driver who was distracted by his cell phone. Two years ago, my wife’s car was rear ended on Center Street by a car driven by a man who admitted that he was distracted by his cell phone. Earlier this month, my car was side-swiped in South Carolina by a driver who admitted that he was “looking down” when he heard my car horn and realized that he had drifted into the oncoming lane. He swerved at the last second to avoid a head-on collision. My family and our cars have been 3 time losers without once being at fault – due to fools who think they can look at their phones and drive their cars at the same time.

    I propose that this form of inattentive driving should be prosecuted as severely as DUI’s. People who cause car wrecks while distracted by their phones while driving should have their licenses suspended. In addition, they should pay restitution to their victims, and they should be court ordered to attend counseling, There isn’t anything funny anymore about this kind of stupidity.

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