APPLETON (NBC 26) — According to new data from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, distracted driving has been on the rise in recent years. The department found there were more than 10,000 crashes involving distracted driving last year, up more than 13% from 2020.
Captain Mike Frisch with the Appleton Police Department says distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents.
“A good majority of them are people either being on their phones, looking away from the roadway, talking to somebody in the car, whatever it might be,” Frisch said.
He says officers will often issue inattentive driving citations when responding to crashes. Cellphones aren't the only thing that can distract drivers - Frisch says anything that draws the driver's attention away from the road can warrant an inattentive driving citation. That can include things like eating, using other devices, or even being distracted by other passengers.
"If you're doing anything that's diverting your attention from that, you're not putting in your full attention to what you're doing," Frisch said. "Thus you're being inattentive to what you're doing, that would qualify in that way."
Data from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation also shows that fatalities from distracted driving have risen in recent years. 26 people were killed in 2019, 31 in 2020 and preliminary numbers show 40 people died in distracted driving crashes in 2021.
Texting is one of the most dangerous distractions behind the wheel. According to the department, sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that’s equivalent to driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
Staying focused behind the wheel is a lesson that parents say they hope to pass down to their children.
"There’s no rush, take your time, you don’t have to really break the speed limit or law," said Appleton mother Mackenzi Stuckwisch.
For Kimberly Wirtz, whose daughter is learning how to drive, it's about leading by example.
"I don’t like to use my cellphone while I drive unless it’s for maps or to find out where I’m going," Wirtz said. "I make sure that she doesn’t go on her cellphone if she is practicing.”