Minnesota roads growing safer
Every crash, every story, every individual, adds up.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) recently released its 2010 Crash Report. It recorded 411 traffic deaths in Minnesota - the lowest number since 1944 when 356 people were killed.
The report also showed that there was a 15 percent decrease of motorcyclist deaths and the lowest number of alcohol-related deaths on record.
"The continuing drop in road fatalities is a clear and positive signal that motorists are making safe decisions behind the wheel," said DPS commissioner Mona Dohman.
In 2010, there were 74,073 vehicle crashes in Minnesota. The crashes resulted in 411 fatalities and 31,176 injuries - 1,191 of which were severe.
The fatalities were a combination of motorists (305); motorcyclists (45); pedestrians (36); bicyclists (9); ATV riders (8); moped riders (3); snowmobiles (3) and farm equipment occupants (2).
The most common factor in these crashes (in order of frequency) was - driver inattention/distraction, failure to yield right of way, and illegal or unsafe speed.
According to Sergeant Jesse Grabow, State Patrol public safety information officer from this area, one out of every four crashes involved distracted driving - such as texting, talking and eating.
"A distracted driving law went into effect in August of 2008 banning texting, e-mailing and Web usage while driving," said Grabow. "However, it is still a very difficult law to enforce."
BREAKING IT APART
Though the overall statistic is one whole number, there are many factors and circumstances in which that number was formed and many ideas that have helped to reduce that number.
Of the 305 vehicle occupants killed, 148 were wearing their seat belt. Of those not wearing their seat belt, 55 percent were ejected.
"On July 9," Grabow recalls, "the primary seat belt law came into effect and has been a key step in helping to save more lives."
It has helped to increase the number of drivers and passengers wearing seat belts to a record-high 92 percent, and resulted in fewer unbelted traffic deaths.
Riders' training programs, outreach efforts, and enforcement has also helped reduce the number of motorcycle deaths 15 percent from the past year (53 in 2009 to 45 in 2010).
Teenage fatalities have also decreased dramatically over the past decade. Officials say that this is from encouraging parents to set limits, reinforce state laws, and continue to monitor and train teen drivers after receiving their license. But teen deaths have increased slightly in the past year, from 38 in 2009 to 41 in 2010.
The increase in teenage deaths, according to Grabow is due to many factors including lack of experience and distracted driving.
The numbers are still very low, considering how, in 2004, there were 78 teen deaths.
Pedestrian (36) and bicyclists (9) deaths have both decreased from 2009 when there were 41 pedestrian deaths and 10 bicyclists deaths.
Of those pedestrians killed, 34 percent of them had an alcohol-concentration level of 0.08 or higher.
One hundred and thirty one alcohol related deaths occurred in Minnesota this year. This is the lowest count recorded since the statistic was first taken in 1984.
However, impaired driving is a factor in one third of all traffic deaths.
Last year, 29,918 motorists were arrested for a DWI. Though this is a 9 percent decrease from 2009 when 32,756 were arrested, one in every seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI.
Because of these high numbers, numerous DWI offenders have had an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicles.
An ignition interlock device is a mechanism - like a Breathalyzer - installed in the dashboard of a motor vehicle. The driver must exhale into the devise for the vehicle's motor to start. If the driver's breath-alcohol concentration result is greater then 0.02 percent to 0.04 percent, the device prevents the vehicle from starting.
"The law went into affect on July 1, 2011," says Grawbow. "I hope to see more ignition interlock devices installed in DWI offenders cars as time progresses. So far, they have been extremely affective."
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE?
"The reduced number of deaths is significant," said Sergeant Grabow. "Many factors have gone into helping to support and kindle this drop."
Groups have taken the initiative and created campaigns that increase enforcement of seatbelt use, speeding and impaired driving; outreach efforts have been launched to educate communities; and emergency medical and trauma response have improved.
"These campaigns are the cornerstone in getting information and education to the public," Grabow noted. "Providing people with information will give them the knowledge of how to drive more safely."
The Department of Public Safety has also played a major role in dropping the fatality rate over the past year by passing numerous enforcement laws - stronger teen graduated driver's licensing laws, a ban on texting/emailing/Web access, and a primary seat belt law.
For the drop to continue, DPS officer of traffic safety acting director, Donna Beger, believes that motorists need to take driving seriously. "That includes driving at safe speeds, being patient and never taking the risk of driving impaired."
In the past year, the number of DWIs in Doulgas County has dropped from 266 in 2009 to 227 in 2010 and the number of overall crashes has also decreased from 650 to 625.
These are huge strides considering how, in 2008, there were 757 crashes and 299 DWIs.
In 2010 there were also no motorcycle deaths when, in 2009, there were two.
WE'VE IMPROVED - BUT LET'S IMPROVE MORE
So far in 2011 there have been 125 road deaths. At this same time in 2010, there were 156 road deaths.
"To build on this momentum, we'll continue our focus of enhanced enforcement and education campaigns to combat the ongoing threats on the road such as drunk, aggressive and distracted drivers," Dohman said.
The state's goal is to record an annual death count of 375 or fewer deaths by 2014.