MADISON — In a state that traditionally leads the nation in heavy drinking, drunken driving has long been a public health concern.

But alcohol-related falls now account for more deaths in Wisconsin than motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol.

“I’m not suggesting the focus on drunken driving is misdirected but falls related to alcohol kill a lot more people each year,” said Julia Sherman, coordinator of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project.

The most recent figures available show 349 deaths in Wisconsin from alcohol-related falls in 2012. That compares to 223 alcohol-related traffic deaths that year.

Last month, for example, a 32-year-old woman died after falling from a third-floor fire escape on a downtown La Crosse building. Police said surveillance video captured her struggling to walk near the Who’s On Third tavern.

In a state that traditionally leads the nation in heavy drinking, drunken driving has long been a public health concern.

But alcohol-related falls now account for more deaths in Wisconsin than motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol.

“I’m not suggesting the focus on drunken driving is misdirected but falls related to alcohol kill a lot more people each year,” said Julia Sherman, coordinator of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project.

The most recent figures available show 349 deaths in Wisconsin from alcohol-related falls in 2012. That compares to 223 alcohol-related traffic deaths that year.

Last month, for example, a 32-year-old woman died after falling from a third-floor fire escape on a downtown La Crosse building. Police said surveillance video captured her struggling to walk near the Who’s On Third tavern.

The number of drunk driving fatalities on the roads have declined dramatically since 1979 when 593 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol.

Alcohol-related fatalities fell to 185 in 2013, the last year for which that information is available.

Meanwhile, the number of deadly falls related to drinking have been on the increase. Fatal falls linked to alcohol have risen 36 percent since 2004.

Sherman said one reason is a Wisconsin population that carries its drinking habits as it ages.

She said older people are already at risk from falls and adding alcohol or alcohol in combination with drugs or medications only adds to the problems.

“When I hear about happy hours in retirement communities I get worried,” said Sherman. “With the population aging, it’s an area we haven’t looked closely enough at.”

Meanwhile, a new study by the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation again shows Wisconsin as the hardest-drinking state in the country.

Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that 12 percent of state residents had engaged in heavy or binge drinking in the past 30 days.

That is defined as five or more drinks in one day by men or four in one day for women.

The report, which used data from 2002 to 2012, also found that people in Wisconsin consumed 148 more drinks in a year than the national average.

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