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Milwaukee Researcher Explores Causes of Increasing Traffic Deaths in Wisconsin


Wisconsin’s rate of deaths from traffic accidents had been falling for years. Despite having more drivers than ever before, the number of fatalities in 2014 was at a historically low level. So it took the state by surprise when the number jumped significantly in 2015.

That increase mirrors a trend seen nationwide. In Wisconsin, the state’s Department of Transportation turned to UW-Milwaukee researcher Xiao Qin to help find answers and possible solutions.  Qin, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at UWM, and his team have received two grants from the state to examine highway deaths.

Qin attributes the decline in deaths over the last few decades to several things, including better vehicles, improvements to roads, better law enforcement and efficacy of emergency medical staff. "In all these areas, they have made significant improvements," he says. 

In order to truly assess the situation on Wisconsin roads, Qin says his team needs access to good, reliable data. "Wisconsin DOT is actually making a significant investment and progress in that area," he continues. 

With that in mind, Qin explains there are many factors that go into why, how and where accidents happen. Although speed limits have increased in places throughout the state, he says that this is unlikely a major contributing factor to the increase in deaths. "The speed actually plays a significant role in terms of injury severity, but there's not clear evidence that shows that raising the speed limit will lead to more crashes," Qin explains.

Still, there are some steps the state hasn't taken that could help decrease traffic fatalities in Wisconsin. "All this bad weather, inclement weather, is going to create a problem for people that travel too fast for the conditions. And Wisconsin currently does not have a so-called 'variable speed limit system' that can advise people to travel with different speed when the weather permits," he says.

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