Distracted driving accidents are on the rise in Wisconsin

Distracted driving crashes are increasing in Wisconsin, and misconceptions about the dangers of cognitive distraction may be a contributing factor.

In recent years, distracted driving has increasingly been recognized as a leading threat to roadway safety. According to the government website Distraction.gov, in 2014 alone, 3,179 people across the United States lost their lives in needless accidents involving inattentive drivers. These accidents additionally resulted in about 431,000 injuries.

Like many states, Wisconsin has launched safety and enforcement campaigns to deter inattentive driving. The state also has outlawed one of the most common forms of distraction, texting while driving. Unfortunately, though, new data reveals that serious auto accidents involving distracted drivers are becoming more common statewide in spite of these efforts.

Alarming accident trends

As Wisconsin Public Radio reports, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation recently completed a comparison of accident data from 2014 and 2015. The organization found that accidents, injuries and deaths involving distracted drivers increased noticeably, reaching the following levels in 2015:

  • Over 90 fatalities
  • More than 10,600 injuries
  • At least 24,000 accidents

Overall, these accidents rose more than 8 percent. Alarmingly, more than one in seven of the traffic fatalities that occurred throughout the state in 2015 involved a distracted driver.

Why distracted driving persists

Distracted driving may remain such a prevalent problem for various reasons. First, Wisconsin's traffic laws only address texting while driving. This allows drivers to engage in a wide range of other distractions and makes enforcement of the texting ban difficult. Exacerbating the issue, many drivers may fail to recognize the dangers of an increasingly common source of distraction: cognitively demanding activities.

In 2014, the National Safety Council found that as many as 8 out of 10 drivers thought that hands-free technology was safer to use while driving than handheld technology, despite the mental distraction that it creates. Traffic laws in other states that ban handheld cell phones while allowing hands-free devices may reinforce this belief. However, research shows no significant difference between the distraction and risks associated with hands-free and handheld devices.

The impairment that drivers experience while using hands-free, voice-based technology may be significant. According to The Washington Post, one study published in late 2015 found that drivers remained distracted for up to 27 seconds after they stopped using hands-free devices. Unfortunately, many drivers may remain oblivious to the risks of this type of distraction.

Holding distracted drivers accountable

Sadly, early data suggests that catastrophic auto accidents may be on the rise in Wisconsin in 2016. According to WPR, as of March 2016, the state had experienced 95 traffic fatalities, which represented a 32 percent increase over the number recorded during the same part of 2015. The DOT has not revealed how many of these were negligence-related accidents. However, last year's data suggests that reckless habits such as distracted driving may be a significant contributing factor.

Seeking compensation may be an option for the victims of these accidents, since distracted driving and other actions that aren't expressly illegal may still represent negligence. An auto accident attorney may be able to offer a victim further advice regarding his or her rights and options for pursuing recourse.