Graham Kilmer

Milwaukee An Outlier For Rising Traffic Deaths

Up by 113% in Milwaukee County in past two decades while declining by 36% statewide.

By - Apr 25th, 2024 06:33 am
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.

Across Wisconsin, deadly car crashes have been declining for two decades, except in Milwaukee County.

From 2002 to 2022, traffic fatalities decreased statewide by approximately 36.1%. In Milwaukee County, they increased 113.5%.

Year after year, Milwaukee County has typically broken from the rest of the state when it comes to traffic safety trends, according to a new report by the nonprofit Wisconsin Policy Forum, a good government organization. This trend has also been accompanied by a growing racial divide among traffic fatality victims.

The Policy Forum found that traffic fatalities among white residents in the state have been declining at the same time that they increased for Black and Hispanic residents. This data matches the findings in a recent traffic safety assessment conducted by the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), which found that Black and American Indian county residents face higher rates of fatal and serious injury crashes.

From 2018 to 2022, the traffic fatality rate for Black residents of the state increased 9.8%. For Hispanic residents, “the increase since 2018 has been stark,” the Policy Forum notes, with the traffic fatality rate up by 45.3%.

“Since Milwaukee County is home to a majority of Wisconsin’s Black residents and a plurality of its Hispanic residents, it is not surprising that these trends have unfolded concurrently with an increase in crash fatalities there,” the Policy Forum reported.

Another finding from the report that mirrored the results of MCDOT’s safety assessment is that while Milwaukee County outpaces the rest of the state for traffic fatalities, it remains below the national rate for fatal crashes per 100,000.

Excessive speeding is a driving force behind the rising traffic fatalities in Milwaukee County. Over the past two decades, the number of “speeding-involved” fatal crashes has increased by 213%.

WPF considers the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on traffic fatalities, given the nationwide spike in deadly crashes in 2020 and 2021. But there again, Milwaukee County appears to be an outlier. For the state and the rest of the country, traffic fatalities spiked in the first two years of the pandemic and then subsided. In Milwaukee, traffic fatalities continued to rise at a rate that pre-dated the pandemic and continued rising at that rate as the rest of the country began to decline.

“Ultimately, recent trends in crash fatalities in Milwaukee County certainly continue to merit concern and action,” the policy forum concludes. “Recent responses from state and local policymakers show they are taking the problem seriously, but additional steps may be required to reverse the longterm trends we have discussed and put the region back on a trajectory toward safer streets.”

Read the full policy forum report on Urban Milwaukee.

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4 thoughts on “Transportation: Milwaukee An Outlier For Rising Traffic Deaths”

  1. LibraryLinda1 says:

    No one (but me) drives at the speed limit around Milwaukee. It is time to install cameras and fine all those people who speed. I hate driving on the freeways where the listed speed is 55 and everyone is going at least 65. My husband was almost killed when a driver was coming right at him at over 100 miles per hour. He managed to turn into the other lane and save himself. That driver was followed by 4 police cars. This could have been a disaster!

  2. LibraryLinda1 says:

    I am the programmer for the Women’s Civic Conference of Milwaukee. I would like to plan a program on traffic safety. Does anyone know of anyone who could speak on this topic next year?
    I also am interest in planning another program on how we get our news. Can you think of any speakers on that topic? Feel free to contact me at
    Thanks, Linda Brown

  3. bigb_andb says:

    LibertyLinda1, sorry about the police chase. Free driving chaos is not a Milwaukee problem. Lots of people from the suburbs are the ones speeding on the freeway.

  4. frank a schneiger says:

    A few thoughts from a Milwaukee native and regular visitor who lives (and drives) in New York City. Regardless of neighborhood, I never feel uncomfortable and on high alert driving in New York, but I always do in Milwaukee. One example: in Milwaukee, speeding and reckless driving aside, for lots of people, stop signs are seen as driving suggestions, not laws.

    Why is that? I think there are two basic reasons for this reality. The first is that, like everything in life, people have gotten used to this dangerous driving and either join in, adjust their own driving, or alter their routes. Rolling through stop signs may be the most obvious example. The second is, that for certain groups, mostly young, male, and non-white, reckless driving has become “the thing to do” or “everybody’s doing it.”

    The solutions are to get everyone unused to these violations, and to make clear to those who think it is “the thing to do” that it’s not worth it. That means highly visible enforcement and visible, stiff penalties, changing the message to “it’s not the thing to do.”

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