October 19, 2021

Tackling the Growing Problem of Wrong-Way Driving

If you have traveled I-94 East over the years, you probably remember Lakeland Supply Company’s inspirational messages on their sign on the south side of the highway. The company has since moved to a different location so I don’t see their signs much anymore, but thanks to social media one of their new signs caught my eye in August.

The sign was a simply an image of a Jeep with the words, “No Worries. None.”

The post was from Margo Lehmann, a Lakeland Supply employee and mother who recently lost her daughter. Here is what she posted:

“My company, Lakeland Supply, has an inspirational sign near Hwy 16 in Pewaukee. Every few weeks they switch out the sign. Today they surprised me with this sign.

I lost my 20 year daughter this past January when she was struck by a wrong way driver on HWY 94. Her motto was No Worries. None. A phrase that Marleh said often. The jeep was a car that Marleh had always wanted and was going to buy when she graduated college in December of 2021.”

After reading Margo’s post I sent her a short message expressing my sympathies. She saw I am a State Senator and invited me to a meeting to discuss what can be done to prevent future accidents like the one that took her daughter. We arranged a very enlightening meeting.

First, I am reminded that public policy has its limits and that we all can play a role in preventing one-way driving:

  • Talk to your children. 90% of wrong-way driver deaths are the result of impaired drivers. Don’t drink or do drugs and drive, please stop others from doing so if you can, and talk to your kids about impaired driving. Our state and community have seen a growing number of deaths from impaired one-way drivers on our interstates and highways.
  • Talk to your parents or grandparents. Marleh’s death was not the result of a driver impaired by alcohol or drugs, it was the result of an elderly man suffering from severe dementia who was also killed in the crash. No one wants their last act on earth to be a fatal accident that claims someone else’s life. Is it time to have this conversation and possibly take the keys from your elderly loved ones? Technology and services are available to help seniors in this position.

We also discussed how public policy can make a difference. I will continue to support tougher laws on drunk driving. Wisconsin has some of the most lax drunk driving laws in the country.

I will also work on tackling this problem via specific legislation. Thanks to research done by a high school classmate of Marleh, I have learned that there is new technology that can limit incidences of one-way driving.

New one-direction spike strip technology is available at a reasonable cost. Sometimes called “Shark Strips,” these devices can deflate a vehicle’s tires when they enter an interstate or other four-lane highway ramp in the wrong direction. At an estimated cost of $15-$20 thousand per on-ramp, Wisconsin can implement this technology and decrease one-way fatalities by disabling the vehicle. Unlike the traditional spikes you may have seen at a rental car facility, the latest technology does not require a vehicle to slow down when traveling in the correct direction.

The statistics show that this technology comes not a minute too soon. Every year, 500 Americans on average are killed in one-way fatalities. The problem is getting worse quickly in Wisconsin. According to AAA, the number of deaths from wrong-way crashes on Wisconsin’s divided highways in the period from 2015 to 2018 was 230% higher than it was in the preceding 5 years. Even if police are aware a vehicle has entered the interstate in the wrong direction, there is very little they can do to warn other drivers or safely stop the vehicle.  

The bill I will soon introduce will require these tire deflation devices to be installed in all new and renovated on-ramps to divided highways. I will also work with the Department of Transportation to determine if the next state budget can incorporate this technology on on-ramps that have had known issues.

Listening and finding ways we can work together to make our community safer and stronger, such as by addressing wrong-way driving in honor of Marleh Lehmann, is a big part of why I appreciate the opportunity to serve you so much.

We can’t eliminate all risk. However, reducing wrong-way driving fatalities is feasible, the technology is available, and the need is urgent.

Thank You to the Oneida Nation

I recently presented a letter to the Oneida Nation written to them by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. In it, he thanks the Oneida and recognizes them for their alliance with our nation during the war. In fact, the Oneida were among the first allies our new nation had and were of great assistance to Washington and his Army. This commitment to America has not waned in the centuries since.

I had the chance to meet a group of U.S. military veterans from the Oneida Nation when I presented them with the letter at the Milwaukee War Memorial. It has been an opportunity to learn more about the role the Oneida have played in defense of our nation, not just in the Revolutionary War but in the centuries since.

Indigenous peoples serve in the U.S. Armed Forces at five times the national average, and they have remained steadfast in their defense of the United States. It was truly an honor to meet these Oneida veterans and present them with this piece of history from the birth of our country.

Watch the full video below and learn more about the contributions of the Oneida Nation to America. Thank you to the Smithsonian, Wisconsin Historical Society, and the Library of Congress for their assistance in securing this historical treasure for the Oneida.

Presenting the letter to the Oneida at the Milwaukee War Memorial

New Blue Books

The new 2021-22 Blue Books have arrived! The Blue Book is your guide to state government. Contact my office at 608-266-2512 or Sen.Kooyenga@legis.Wisconsin.gov to get your free copy.