WAUKESHA (WITI) -- With just a few days left before the arrival of 2014, experts say traffic deaths in the state are down from the previous year. Preliminary numbers show close to 80 fewer deaths on Wisconsin roads this year compared to 2012.
"It would have to be absolute disaster for us to exceed last year's total," said David Hanson with the Wisconsin State Patrol.
As of December 22nd, DOT statistics show 519 people were killed in car accidents in 2013 compared to 601 fatalities in 2012. The average number from 2008-2012 was 571.
"With anything substantial like that, it's really a combination of several factors. Nationwide, the economy is still slow," said Hanson.
That factor contributes to fewer miles being driven overall. Additionally, vehicles continue to get safer and the number of Wisconsinites wearing seat belts continues to rise -- now close to 70%.
"Other states are approaching 80 and even a few approach 90%. Wisconsin needs to get there eventually," Hanson said.
Another major factor setting this year's statistics apart was the weather. Hanson says winter 2012 was long but didn't have many major snowstorms, drastically cutting the number of pileups associated with a snowy season.
Hanson says safer driving behaviors can help push the number of Wisconsin traffic deaths even lower in 2014. His number one rule is don't drink and drive.
Distracted driving, Hanson says, is one bad habit that could cancel out the gains in other areas, however.
"Texting is every bit as dangerous as intoxicated driving," said Hanson. "Put your phone in the console or put it on airplane mode or something like that. If you don't have a hand's free device, don't take the call. It can wait."
By changing just a few habits, Wisconsin drivers can help make 2014 the safest year on its roads yet.