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Editorial - How fast were you driving? Radar trailer knows

Safety efforts can - and do - work.

They're not just "feel good" efforts. They can show real results.

Consider the "Toward Zero Deaths" (TZD) initiative - a Minnesota partnership led by the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Health, in cooperation with the Minnesota State Patrol, the Federal Highway Administration, Minnesota county engineers, and the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.

Their mission is a lofty one: to create a culture for which traffic fatalities and serious injuries are no longer acceptable.

Yet there are signs the effort is paying off.

Since 2003, the state's annual number of traffic deaths has dropped 30 percent. The lower death trend is continuing this year. As of last Wednesday, there were 337 traffic deaths reported in Minnesota compared to 352 at the same time in 2008, which had the lowest annual fatality count since 1945.

Here's a look at the traffic death numbers in the past six years: 2003 - 655 deaths, 2004 - 567, 2005 - 559, 2006 - 494, 2007 - 510, 2008 - 455.

Safety leaders are attributing this year's success to a variety of factors: the 0.08 alcohol concentration law, the primary seat belt law and the economy, which has prompted drivers to conserve fuel by traveling at safer speeds.

But other factors are at work too. Through the TZD initiative, traffic safety leaders are working with local law enforcement, engineers, emergency medical services, the media and others to boost awareness about the dangers of speeding, not wearing seat belts, drinking while driving and other risk factors.

Locally, the Douglas County Safe Communities Coalition has been making a difference. It includes Douglas County Public Health, Douglas County Public Works, Alexandria Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, North Ambulance, Alexandria Technical College and community leaders.

The coalition's latest safety effort was reported in last Wednesday's Echo Press. Thanks to donations from local businesses and grants, the group was able to purchase a $6,000 "radar speed trailer" - the first locally owned one in the county.

The trailer, which will be moved around to troublesome speeding spots in the county on a regular basis, flashes the speed drivers are traveling as they approach the trailer. A quick glance will tell drivers if they're going over the speed limit and they can ease off the gas. It should also linger as a reminder for them to ease off the accelerator the next time they travel through that spot.

We think the trailer is a good idea, one that addresses an all-too-common problem in this area. Speeding-related crashes accounted for 25 percent of all the fatalities and serious injuries in the county from 2005 to 2007.

The radar trailer is another tool that should serve as an instant reminder for drivers to slow down, reducing the number of accidents and making local roads safer for everyone.