‘It’s kind of every man for himself’: Madison police looking to halt dangerous driving on city roads

MADISON, Wis. — As the number of motorists killed in crashes on Wisconsin roads and nationwide continues to trend upward, the Madison Police Department is doubling down on efforts to stop dangerous driving in the city.

Nearly 43,000 people died on U.S. roads in 2021, the highest in 16 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2021 fatality data from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is still preliminary but shows 597 people were killed on roads in the state.

As of Tuesday morning, 2022 is trending ahead of last year, with 184 fatalities reported in Wisconsin so far this year compared with 161 at the same point in 2021.

RELATED: Increase in speed, impaired driving-related traffic deaths in Dane County ‘alarming,’ officials say

So far this year in Madison, there have been five traffic-related deaths, a number that is consistent with where the city was at this time last year and a number that is far too high for Police Chief Shon Barnes.  

“We want people to be safe,” he said. “We do not want to have to write tickets. Success for me is when tickets decrease.”

To reach that success, Barnes and his team are focused on quelling issues like distracted driving, reckless driving and speeding, especially on three main drags.

“We have not abandoned neighborhood-oriented policing in the slightest, but what we know is that the Beltline, Mineral Point Road and East Washington Avenue account for more serious injuries or fatalities than any other road in the city of Madison,” Barnes said.

RELATED: East Washington Avenue: A deadly problem

In fact, an officer pulled over a reckless driver going 102 miles per hour — nearly double the posted 55-mile-per-hour limit — on the westbound Beltline near Whitney Way. That driver, police said in a Facebook post, was weaving between vehicles and passing vehicles on the right shoulder.

Ultimately, they received a ticket for speeding and reckless driving.

Driver Steve Leger has seen his fair share of unsafe behavior on city streets.

“Speeding, cutting in and it’s pretty hairy,” he said.

Margaret Banister, who walks on East Washington Avenue nearly every day, worries about the worst constantly.

“It’s kind of every man for himself it seems,” Banister said. “I take no chances with someone deciding to, at the last moment, turn right on what will be red in a minute or a second. I will try to be careful here.”

Barnes said three factors are key to solving the issue.

“It’s enforcement, it’s education and it’s high visibility. Those are the three things we are looking at. You can’t go into an area and write tickets and those tickets will get you out of your problem…that’s not true,” he said.

The push comes ahead of the summer season, which tends to be the deadliest for drivers.

It’s all in hopes of making the streets of Madison safer for people like Banister who depend on them. 

“There aren’t that many other choices. It’s the way to the grocery store and I go to others occasionally but this is where I shop,” she said.