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Crashes rise on interstate system since speed limit hike

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The number of accidents on Wisconsin’s interstate system has increased since the speed limit was raised to 70 mph.

Statistics from the state’s Bureau of Transportation Safety show crashes on the interstate system in June through September were up nearly 13 percent over the same period last year. Accidents with injuries rose slightly to 624 from 593, and there were 15 fatalities compared with 10 in the earlier period.

Speed limit signs began changing on interstate highways in mid-June after Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation in May, the Journal Sentinel reports.

Law enforcement officials say the rise in crashes might not be directly attributed to driving faster. Whether there’s a direct relationship is the “million-dollar question regarding the crashes,” said Capt. Steve Krueger, commander of the State Patrol’s post in Wausau.

“I don’t think we have the answers yet,” Krueger said.

Speed itself doesn’t necessarily cause crashes, according to Krueger. He said they can be caused by differences in speed between vehicles.

“A lot of highways don’t have minimum speed limits, and that’s where the problem comes — when cars close in on each other too fast,” Krueger said.

Initially, it seemed there was a significant portion of commercial vehicles that decided to stick with driving at 65 mph, “whether it’s fuel economy or another reason,” said Capt. Timothy Carnahan, regional commander of the State Patrol’s Waukesha post.

Carnahan said the number of miles driven on Wisconsin roads has increased as the economy has improved. The rise in accidents might be a reflection of that, he said.

Speed isn’t the only factor in crashes, said Brent Oleson, sheriff of Juneau County and president of the Badger State Sheriff’s Association. Distracted driving is increasingly a problem with the prevalence of cellphones.

“A lot of it is a combination of speed and distracted driving,” Oleson said. “There’s less room for error the faster you’re driving.”

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