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Defensive Driving The Focus in Wisconsin's Plan To Reduce Traffic Deaths

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Seatbelt laws and other rules of the road are part and parcel of many traffic school curriculums, but in Wisconsin, law enforcement officials are making a concerted effort to drive down the number of fatalities caused by traffic accidents.

Part of that involves increased funding for local enforcement efforts of seatbelt laws, like in Madison where extra officers pulled over motorists who either weren't wearing their seatbelt or allowed occupants to ride without proper restraints. While the price of not wearing a seatbelt is a $10 ticket, officials noted that the costs could be higher.

According to State Police Major Dan Lonsdorf, 125 people were killed in collisions because they weren't adequately restrained, and yet local officers told WKOW-TV that they found that one in four drivers or their passengers was riding without the benefit of a seat belt.

Increasing enforcement of the decades-old seat belt law is one prong of the strategy, but Lonsdorf has also been holding news conferences to speak of the state's goal of having a "zero traffic death" year, with 1,700 audience members listening to his suggestions.

"My message is going to be very straightforward. All the laws in the world aren't going to fix this. All the cops in the world aren't going to fix this. What's going to fix this is people like you in this room..." he told the audience of workplace safety managers, according to

The goal is to limit speeding, distractions, intoxicated driving and failure to use restraints or other safety equipment, aspects that some drivers may benefit from reinforcing via a online defensive driving course. It could help the number of traffic fatalities drop from 543 in 2009, to close to zero in the future, he added.

Other statistics he shared include the 5.4 million trips made in the Badger State where occupants don't wear seatbelts, the 12.5 million trips that involve speeding and the one in ten drivers who goes without a license. Interestingly, reducing speed to 65 miles per hour from 75 miles per hour would eliminate one out of every six crashes, but make more than half non-fatal.

Calling on workplace safety managers and other educators is going to be the way forward, according to the strategy put forth by Wisconsin officials. They are also advocating the use of strong imagery in public service announcements, similar to that used in foreign countries where traffic fatalities are a fraction of the rate they are in America.

Drivers in the United States face different situations than those in other countries, except perhaps Australia, however. The culture of the car allows people to consider longer drives on a regular basis, a prospect enhanced by gas prices that are much lower than that in other countries.

Still, Lonsdorf and others are hopeful that defensive driving techniques and an appreciation for the effect that choices can have on driving outcomes will lead to safer roads and more alert motorists.