By: David Pabst, Director, WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety
Over the last 30-plus years, I’ve worn several hats. This includes 23 years wearing a State Patrol Stetson – serving as a trooper, inspector, sergeant, lieutenant and captain in various locations across Wisconsin.
Today, I wear a slightly different hat, having transitioned into a civilian state government position as Director of the Bureau of Transportation Safety within the Wisconsin DOT and its Division of State Patrol. There’s a common theme that runs through my current and previous professional duties: enhancing public safety through strategic use of public education and law enforcement tools.
As a State Patrol officer, I saw first-hand the tragic things that happen when motorists make poor decisions. What’s most tragic – and frustrating – is the vast majority of traffic-related crashes, injuries and deaths are preventable. Common mistakes we see far too often include speeding, unbuckled motorists, impaired or distracted drivers.
Inattentive driving is a serious and growing traffic safety concern – currently accounting for at least one of every six traffic crashes in WI. It comes in many forms. All are dangerous, potentially deadly and avoidable. They include:
Talking/texting on a cell phone
Adjusting in-vehicle audio, navigation or temperature systems
Eating, reading, shaving, brushing hair, putting on make-up
Distractions caused by passengers or pets
People have a tendency to get overly complacent during their daily commutes – until they witness or get involved in a traffic incident. To minimize the chances of distracted-driving crashes, I suggest drivers keep the following things in mind:
For most of us, traveling in a motor vehicle is the most dangerous thing we do in a typical day. Driving is a privilege and a tremendous responsibility that requires a person’s full attention.
Even a momentary lapse can have tragic results. At 55 mph, taking your eyes off the road for just four seconds is like driving the length of a football field blindfolded.
Last year (2019) in WI, preliminary data shows that inattentive driving was a factor in 21,527 crashes that resulted in 10,447 injuries and 107 fatalities.
Inattentive driving crashes occur more than three times as often as alcohol-related crashes.
Making our roadways and communities safer requires everyone to do their part. Use every opportunity behind the wheel to practice safe driving skills. Buckle up, every seat, every trip. Watch your speed. Stay focused on the road ahead.
Turn off your phone and set it aside. No call, text or social media message is more important than your life or someone else’s.
If you’re a parent or adult mentor, model and discuss safe driving behaviors. If you’re a passenger, avoid distracting the driver.
For the Wisconsin DOT and our Division of State Patrol, our goal is Zero Deaths on Wisconsin roads. We can move dramatically towards that goal if everyone would simply be responsible and alert every time they travel.
David Pabst is currently Director of the Bureau of Transportation Safety and the Governor’s Highway Safety Coordinator. He has been with the State Patrol since 1986 and has managed many programs over the years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern Center for Public Safety’s School of Police Staff and Command as well as being a Certified Public Manager. David resides in the Madison area with his family.