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County traffic fatalities cut in half

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St. Croix County saw a dramatic drop in the number of traffic deaths in 2010 compared with previous years.

The sheriff's department recorded six fatalities on county roadways compared with 12 in 2009. It was the lowest number of traffic deaths in the county since 1979 when five people were killed.

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"There are a lot of contributing factors to the drop in fatalities, not the least of which is the number of patrols we have been able to put on the road," Sheriff John Shilts said.

Shilts said federal highway safety grants have allowed the department to pay overtime to patrol officers to extend their time on the road. "We have been working on the grants for the last four or five years," he said.

The sheriff said both the county and state highway patrols have obtained grants for traffic and traffic safety.

"The advance in emergency services has also been a big factor in reducing fatalities," Shilts said. "I don't know if we are having fewer crashes, but the advances in medicine and emergency medicine have been huge since I was on the road," he said.

Since 2000, the county has suffered double digit annual traffic deaths on its roadways including a high of 21 in 2002.

The worst year since the department starting keeping annual records was in 1966 when there were 36 fatal accidents. The number included five deaths in one accident on Dec. 27 on I-94 one-half mile east of Hwy 63.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said 564 people died in traffic accidents on the state roadways in 2010. The total marked the third consecutive year Wisconsin had fewer than 600 deaths for the first time since 1942-44.

The 2010 total was 22 more than the previous year but 112 fewer than the five-year average according to WisDOT preliminary statistics.

"We are encouraged traffic fatalities in Wisconsin are staying at levels not experienced since the early 1940s when the number of vehicle miles traveled was miniscule compared with today," said WisDOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

The preliminary statistics indicated a rise in pedestrian and motorcycle fatalities in 2010 across the state.

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