Drunk driving deaths across Wisconsin down from 2018

According to court documents the man told investigators he was distracted by his mobile phone...
According to court documents the man told investigators he was distracted by his mobile phone and didn't see the stop sign. Officials said testing showed his alcohol level was above the legal limit to drive. (Source: Pixabay)(KMVT)
Published: Dec. 30, 2019 at 6:39 PM CST
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As one of America’s favorite drinking holidays approaches, the push to keep impaired drivers off the roads continues in the wake of 136 alcohol-related crash deaths in Wisconsin, down from 159 deaths last year.

According to preliminary Department of Transportation data, none of those deaths occurred in Marathon County, down from two OWI deaths in 2018. In total, 105 crashes were reported across Marathon County where alcohol was a factor, with 48 injuries reported.

“We know that holiday parties are full of cheer, and that people are consuming alcoholic beverages at these parties,” Wausau police deputy chief Matt Barnes said. “We also adjust our enforcement and make sure that we have the appropriate staff to keep the community safe and make sure that people are held accountable if they’re out driving drunk.”

Last week between December 20 and 26, Wausau police officers made at least nine OWI arrests, according to the Wausau Police Crime Log. Typically, the department averages 21 OWI arrests in the month of December, based on five years of data.

“On busy days throughout the holiday season, we make sure that we have the peak number of staffing available to us,” Barnes noted.

Statewide, DOT OWI arrest data reflects a lower number of arrests during the holidays than the summer months, and an overall decline in OWI arrests since 2015. Both those seasons are when the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign launches around the country. In addition to that campaign, the state DOT also channels federal funds to hotspots around Wisconsin for OWI enforcement around the year. The closest task force funded by grants through the Bureau of Transportation Safety in 2019 operated in Shawano County. Those grants are distributed based on data analyzing where the biggest trouble areas in the state are, BOTS program and policy chief Mike Schwendau said, as well as historical metrics from participating departments.

"It's really critical that we follow our data-driven analysis processes, and make our decisions based on data as much as possible to mitigate the risk," Schwendau said.

Risky behaviors like drunk driving often come paired with other high-risk choices like driving without seatbelts, he noted, as was the case with 13 crashes in Marathon County last year.

“When you leave your home in the morning, you should expect to get home at the end of the day, no matter what you do in your community,” Schwendau said.

“Our expectation is that people aren’t behind the wheel while they’re drunk. My life, my children’s life, my family’s life is way more important than their convenience and getting home if they had too much to drink,” Barnes said.