The number of Wisconsin traffic deaths last year crossed a recently unfamiliar but deadly line. Through four consecutive years, the state registered less than annual 600 deaths in motor vehicle accidents. The streak ended last year with the deaths of 601 riders, drivers and passengers.
Fatal motorcycle crashes contributed to the death count. One hundred motorcycle operators and more than one dozen passengers died in 2012, the highest death rate in 33 years.
The sharp spike - 30 percent for operators, 75 percent for passengers compared to 2011 - is blamed partly on the extended riding season due to dry, pleasant weather. Eighty percent of the people killed on motorcycles in Wisconsin last year were not wearing helmets.
State authorities began to notice a rise in road fatalities in late 2011 that never slowed. As the jobless rate fell, the roads grew crowded with motorists commuting to work and taking vacations. Favorable driving conditions due to the absence of a harsh winter and the presence of a summer drought added to vehicle miles.
A single-vehicle crash last winter in Fond du Lac County killed three high school students and injured six other teens. The nine students were speeding along a hilly road at over 100 mph when the driver lost control.
Several of the SUV's occupants were ejected as the vehicle overturned. Many of the victims had not been wearing seat belts. The driver was imprisoned after a conviction of vehicular homicide.
Many fatal motor vehicle accidents, like the one in Fond du Lac County, are caused by driver negligence. Victims and family members have the right to file claims for damages through personal injury or wrongful death complaints. Attorneys represent plaintiffs in cases that often result in settlements or jury awards.
Evidence of negligence may surface in criminal proceedings. Criminal charges and convictions are not required for victims to pursue litigation in civil court.
Source: jsonline.com, "Traffic fatalities increased in Wisconsin in 2012," Meg Jones, Jan. 15, 2013