By Senator Lena C. Taylor
If you are of a certain age, musical genre, or social network, you are familiar with the saying “Check yo’ self, before you wreck yo’ self”. While it didn’t originate with the rapper Ice Cube, his 1993 “Check Yo Self” song became anthem and cautionary tale for making reckless life style choices.
Not familiar with the saying? Thank God for urbandictionary.com, which defines the phrase in this way: to take a step back and examine your actions, because you are in a potentially dangerous or sticky situation that could get bad very easily. Often in a harmful manner.
Members of our community, that have been driving recklessly, would do well to heed those words. Cue the music: “Bad Boys, Bad Boys, what you gonna do, what you gonna do when they come for you?”
Law enforcement is cracking down on drivers who abuse traffic rules and threaten the safety of motorists and pedestrians every day. In last week’s Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committee, it looks like they will be getting some help. Two notable bills were heard that would increase the penalties for reckless driving and give local municipalities the option to tow vehicles, if a person is caught driving recklessly and has an unpaid prior reckless driving fine.
The jury is out on whether increased penalties are a deterrent to crime. There are different schools of thought, which frequently vary along partisan lines. However, SB 90 and SB 92 were introduced by Republicans and Democrats. Underscoring the frustration and severity of reckless driving, there was no red or blue in this policy collaboration.
A review of existing fines for reckless driving yielded surprising results. Wisconsin’s reckless driving fine, of up to $200, hasn’t changed in 70 years. With the passage of these bills, violators would see a range of increases that cover fines and jail time.
Many of us have watched as cars careen through red lights. We’ve winced at the feeling of a car illegally passing us in the right parking lane. We’ve gripped our steering wheel as we swerve to get out of the way and have stared in shock at yet another car wrapped around a tree. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Wisconsin traffic deaths and non-fatal accidents have risen significantly over the years. With the Department of Transportation reporting that we are averaging about 2,900 reckless driving injuries annually, we know that many counties across the state are experiencing this issue. This is likely why it was easier to get legislators, on each side of the aisle, to the table.
These bills are not a magic bullet and no one believes that they alone will stop reckless driving. They are one more tool, intended to get drivers to self-regulate or check their own behavior. The lives wrecked by irresponsible driving require us to do more. With these bills, maybe we can.