- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Transportation officials are attributing a sharp increase in the number of traffic deaths in Wisconsin this year to low gas prices and warmer weather.

In January and February, 79 people were killed on state roads, compared with 60 people during the same period last year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1Swzzyn ) reported. The five-year average is 64 people killed over the two-month period.

February is usually one of the months with the fewest traffic fatalities, but Feb. 19 to 21 was a particularly deadly weekend in which 11 people were killed, including a triple fatality crash in Columbia County.

Experts believe more people were traveling that weekend because of unseasonably mild weather and historically low gas prices.

“Generally we have horrendous weather in February,” said David Pabst, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Safety. “That particular weekend would have been good weather and more people were out and about. We ended up with a triple fatality and a couple of multiple fatalities.”

El NiƱo has been blamed for causing temperatures to rise above their normal levels this winter.

In February, the average temperature in Milwaukee was nearly 3 degrees above normal, while the average temperature in Madison was nearly 4 degrees above normal.

Motorists tend to drive more slowly when there’s ice and snow on the roads, and even though lots of accidents happen as a result of winter weather, they’re often minor and don’t lead to serious injury or death.

The number of “vehicle miles traveled” has continued to increase as the economy continues to recover and gas prices remain low, according to Pabst. Many states, not just Wisconsin, have experienced an increase in traffic fatalities.

“It’s good for everyone that gas prices are down, but people are driving more, they’re going out and enjoying themselves,” Pabst said.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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