Distracted driving causing more crashes than drunk driving in Brown County

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - There's been a call for change after a Target 2 Investigates report found rumble strips had been removed at a Brown County intersection that was the site of a deadly crash.

We've also learned that crashes caused by distracted driving in Brown County have surpassed crashes caused by alcohol use or drug use.

Rumble strips, which alert drivers to an upcoming stop sign, were removed three years ago at Highways Z and G in the Town of Morrison. The reason: some neighbors complained about the noise.

That decision came to light again when on July 8, Paul R. Schumacher of Mount Pleasant and Thomas M. Hein of Green Bay were killed in a crash at the intersection.

Click here to donate to a fundraiser to help Thomas Hein's family.

Some residents took to the WBAY Facebook page to voice their support for the Highway Commissioner's proposal to re-install rumble strips at the intersection.

"The sound of the rumble strips is nothing. The sounds of the crashes that have happened there since their removal, that's something I don't want to hear," one person wrote.

Another comment read, "We have seen people blow that stop sign doing 60 mph."

Rumble strips are one way to cut down on crashes caused by distracted driving.

Target 2 learned what the county is doing to address the issue.

"WE'VE ALL DONE IT"

"I would call it like your subconscious. We've all done it driving," says Paul Fontecchio, Brown County Highway Commissioner. "We're not paying 100 percent attention to the road. Lost in a thought, song, conversation whatever."

At the corner of Z and G, Fontecchio shows us how easy it is for drivers to miss a stop sign. The road looks like a corridor with trees and power poles lining both sides. From a hill, drivers cannot see another road or traffic.

It's the only location in the county where Highway Z comes to a stop.

Fontecchio says other intersecting town roads stop for it, giving drivers another chance to go into a mental "auto pilot."

DISTRACTED DRIVING CRASHES SURPASS DRUNK DRIVING CRASHES

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are three types of distracted driving: visual, manual and cognitive.

Cognitive distraction happens when you have your eyes on the road, but your mind is elsewhere.

"Everybody out there can say that they remember a time when they drove from point A to point B and they don't even remember how they got there," says Capt. Dan Sandberg, Brown County Sheriff's Office.

Capt. Sandberg crunched the numbers for Target 2 and found more than 2,700 crashes involved distracted drivers between 2015 and the date of this publication.

Sandberg says that's three times as many crashes as those involving alcohol or drugs.

Of those crashes, 875 resulted in fatalities or injury. That's more than twice the number of deaths or injuries from OWI crashes.

"There are so many distractions in today's society that are not going to go away, and people are not going to change, so it's very hard for us to come up with a solution to inattentive driving," Sandberg said.

WHAT'S NEXT

Sandberg says signs have not worked in getting people's attention.

"We've tried to do it with signage. Signage just doesn't work for those high level, fatal crashes and stuff because people are not paying attention," Sandberg says. "They don't see signs. You've got to get something that actually gets the brain working."

More rumble strips may be an option.

As part of the County Road Safety Plan, Fontecchio asked an independent consulting firm to determine where rumble strips could help jolt drivers out of distraction in the county.

"They're going to come up with recommendations on how to improve it," Fontecchio, says. "And they're going to prioritize it based on the concern."

Results of the report should be released in September, followed by changes.