Despite statewide drop, Walworth County highway fatalities rose last year
More Walworth County news
For breaking Walworth County news and hourly updates, visit the WalworthCountyToday.com home page throughout the day.
A roadside memorial stands along County Highway ES in East Troy Township in memory of three East Troy High School students. Terry Mayer/staff.
ELKHORN -- Traffic deaths on Wisconsin roads last year fell to levels the state hasn’t seen since World War II, but in 12 counties, including Walworth, the numbers rose.
Walworth County recorded 18 traffic deaths in 2009, up from four in 2008.
Statewide in 2009, there were 543 traffic fatalities. That compares to 587 in 2008 and comes close to 526 back in 1944.
During the World War II years, gas rationing and war efforts kept people off the roads, and fewer drivers meant fewer accidents.
This time around, most research points to the recession as causing a drop in the number of drivers, said Dennis Hughes, chief of safety programs for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, who noted that roadway fatalities were down nationally as well.
“When the economy softens, the first thing we see is a decrease in exposure on the roads,” Hughes said. “Mileage declines, fewer people are making trips for their employers, truck movements are down, less goods are produced. People are being a little more careful in how they spend discretionary income, making changes in nonwork trips, vacation travel, that type of thing.”
Walworth County, however, bucked the statewide trend
“The reason for the jump from 2008 to 2009 was that 2008 was a record low year for us,” said Sgt. Mark Roum of the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department. “According to the Wisconsin DOT, we averaged 17 fatalities a year (from 2005-’09), so 2009, while tragic, was not so unusual for us. Last year’s numbers were still a far cry from the number of fatalities in 2005, which was 31.”
Roum, who also is assistant highway safety coordinator for the county, said that a multiple-fatality accident in East Troy Township last year impacted the number of total fatalities. Three East Troy High School students were killed and one was seriously injured Dec. 3 in a crash on snow-slick County Highway ES.
A deadly weekend in mid-November with three fatal car crashes also added to the total.
Walworth County saw no multiple-injury crashes in 2008.
But Roum said annual fatality totals go in cycles — an unpredictably bad year may be followed by several good years.
Read the full story in the March 21, 2010 e-edition of Walworth County Sunday, HERE.