As many people across Wisconsin rang in the New Year with friends and family, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation tallied the final accidents of 2012, coming to the grim conclusion that last year was the deadliest year compared to any of the previous four on record.

According to a report issued this week, the state closed out 2012 with 601 traffic deaths, ending the state’s four consecutive years of less than 600 fatalities.

A majority of the accidents ending in fatality involved motorcycles which accounted for 101 of the total accidents. An additional 13 passengers of these motorcyclists also lost their lives during these fatal accidents, with pedestrians and bicyclists rounding out the total with 44 and 10 deaths, respectively.

On the opposite side of the state in Milwaukee County, WisDOT found the highest number of fatal accidents, finding 59 in this county alone. In second and third were Dane County, which witnessed a tragic 32 deaths, and Waukesha with 28.

But why so many fatalities in Wisconsin in 2012 compared to past years? State Patrol Maj. Sandra Huxtable, the director of the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety, says that people not wearing their seat belts may have been to blame in a majority of cases. There was a 37 percent increase in passenger fatalities in motor vehicles over the course of the year, which brings Wisconsin’s safety-belt-use rate to 80 percent, far below where neighboring states are at.

Although the WisDOT numbers are rather grim, they do serve as an important reminder for other drivers on the road. Fatal accidents are often times incredibly preventable if drivers refrain from negligent actions and keep vigilant when operating a motor vehicle.

Source: patch.com, “Wisconsin Ends 2012 With 601 Traffic Deaths,” Amy Gilgenbach, Jan. 6, 2013