‘We are extremely concerned’: 2021 already record year for Dane Co. traffic fatalities

To date, 35 people have died on Dane County roadways this year.

MADISON, Wis. — Thirty-five people have died in Dane County crashes so far this year, setting a new county record for traffic fatalities.

That’s according to a new report shared Tuesday by the Dane County Traffic Safety Commission, which said the number of traffic deaths so far this year has already passed 2020’s total. More than 75% of traffic deaths this year happened in the months of April, May, June and July.

“This is an immediate public health issue when it comes to traffic safety,” said Sgt. Dennis Sieren, Dane County Sheriff’s Office and co-chair of the Dane County TSC. “We are extremely concerned about the increasing number of fatalities, despite local efforts to improve safety. Too many area families have lost a friend or loved one under tragic circumstances that could have been prevented.”

Seven of this year’s fatal crashes have involved pedestrians, which TSC officials said is unusually high. Of those, six were in Madison (five of which happened on the East Washington Avenue corridor), and one was in Sun Prairie.

The report noted that more than half of the fatal crashes involved a driver driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Cheryl Wittke, TSC co-chair and executive director of Safe Communities of Madison – Dane County said the increase in fatal crashes may be due to differing driving habits as more drivers return to the roads.

“We’re not sure why the significant increase in fatalities. One theory involves how the behavior of drivers changed during the height of the pandemic last year,” Wittke said. “Vehicle volume was down significantly, and drivers increased speed. Perhaps some drivers accustomed to fewer vehicles on the roads have not adjusted their speed and fully resumed defensive driving skills as roads became more congested.”

According to the report, speeding was a factor in eight of the crashes. There were 12 speed-related fatalities in all of 2020, which was more than double the amount in 2019.

“The common denominator for most crashes is risky driver behavior,” Sieren said. “Everyone needs to be more aware of their surroundings and more vigilant about safety threats.”

Last year, city leaders announced the city’s Vision Zero initiative, which set a goal of having zero traffic fatalities by the year 2030. In the wake of the recent series of fatal crashes on East Washington Avenue, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she’s “fed up” with drivers breaking traffic laws on the eastern corridor.

The Vision Zero imitative includes measures like reducing speed limits, increasing visibility for crosswalks and increasing traffic enforcement. Just a few months after the initiative was announced, the city lowered the speed limit on parts of East Washington Avenue to 25mph.