Distracted Driving, Texting While Driving Deaths Increased 30 Percent in Wisconsin Last Year

Distracted driving — including texting while driving — crashes resulted in nearly 100 fatalities and 10,000 injuries in Wisconsin during 2015.

A hairbrush, a hamburger and a cellphone are harmless – unless you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle. Here’s why distracted driving and texting while driving are bad ideas, and what experts statewide are doing to prevent people from risking their lives.

The dangers of distracted driving, also known as inattentive driving, are not exaggerated. It’s a growing threat to everyone on the road.

In 2015, distracted driving resulted in 94 deaths and 10,615 injuries in Wisconsin. Compared to 2014, distracted driving deaths have increased 31 percent and injuries have increased nine percent.

“When drivers comb their hair while looking in the rearview mirror, eat a meal, or text message while driving, they are in fact distracted and in danger of causing a crash or failing to avoid one,” said David Pabst, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Bureau of Transportation Safety. “Trying to multi-task while driving is a recipe for disaster.”

Saving Lives: The Distracted Driving Simulator

Theresa Nelson is a Grant Specialist for the Wisconsin State Patrol. Part of her job is to guide people through a distracted driving simulator, which Rural Mutual Insurance recently featured in one of its tents at Wisconsin Farm Technology Days.

Theresa Nelson guides an operator through the simulator at Farm Tech Days 2016.

Theresa Nelson guides an operator through the simulator at Farm Tech Days 2016.

“Not only is it fun, but it’s also a good way to learn,” Nelson says. “We provide a hands-on experience in a safe environment, rather than on the road, that teaches people to make good decisions.”

Nelson tours the simulator at high schools and community outreach events across the state. It’s meant to reveal to people that, if you are distracted while driving – especially when using a cell phone – bad things can happen.

She reports that people are oftentimes surprised when they’ve completed a session.

“They say, ‘Wow, does this really happen?’” Nelson says. “Most people don’t think of it this way when they’re on the road.”

Here’s how the simulator works: an operator sits down as he or she would in a vehicle, and uses a gas pedal, brake and wheel to maneuver the car on the screen. Dogs and pedestrians may quickly appear, cars may suddenly brake, and the operator must follow an exact set of directions – all of which he or she may encounter on the road in real life.

However, a cell phone distracts the operator while he or she “drives” on the road; the game requires the operator to type in a telephone number and text message.

Every millisecond an operator is paying attention to the cell phone is a millisecond of attention diverted from the road. And a millisecond is all it takes, Nelson says, to put your life or someone else’s life at risk.

“If we save one life from this, that’s all that matters,” she adds.

Preventing Distracted Driving Accidents

While many actions cause distractions while driving, significant public and legislative attention has been focused on talking and texting on cell phones.

Wisconsin law prohibits texting while driving, and drivers with an instruction permit or probationary license, which includes many teenagers, are prohibited from using a cell phone while driving except in an emergency

“Life is busy, but it’s time to put a stop to distracted driving habits,” says Peter Pelizza, Chief Executive Officer of Rural Mutual. “Multi-tasking behind the wheel puts your life and the lives of others in grave danger.

The good news is that you can do your part to end the distracted driving epidemic that’s plaguing our roadways. Take a pledge to commit to distraction-free driving.

In addition, don’t text, take selfies, take video, or talk on your phone while driving. Encourage loved ones to do the same. Be a responsible passenger and speak out if you see that the driver in your car is distracted.

Rural Mutual encourages drivers to prioritize safety by eliminating all distractions while on the road. The company also provides comprehensive auto, health and life insurance to safeguard families against the damage caused by distracted driving and other accidents on the road.

Visit distracteddriving.gov for more information.

For more information, contact your local Rural Mutual Insurance agent.