An Echo Press Editorial: Bad choices lead to tragic results
By the Echo Press Editorial Board
This winter is off to a dangerous start.
In Douglas County over the past few weeks, the police scanner has been crackling with reports or crashes, vehicles sliding into ditches, cars careening out of control, and most sadly, a semi that blocked two lanes of traffic, which led to a fatality on Jan. 3.
The tragic trend is happening statewide. Minnesota closed out 2021 with a total of 497 lives that were lost – the state’s highest number of traffic deaths since 2007 when 510 people lost their lives, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
“I’m saddened knowing how many families lost a loved one in a traffic crash in 2021,” said Mike Hanson, Office of Traffic Safety director in a news release. “With sadness, there is also anger. Anger that so many motorists are taking the privilege of driving for granted. Some drivers are deliberately exceeding the speed limit, failing to put down the phone, refusing to buckle up and making the poor choice of driving impaired. Until every motorist takes responsibility for their own actions, we’ll continue to see the carnage on our roads. Let’s make sure 2022 isn’t as heartbreaking for Minnesotans.”
According to state public safety officials, speed and unbelted motorists drove the increase in fatalities. Statewide in 2021, speed was the largest contributing factor in fatal traffic crashes in 2021, leading to 162 speed-related deaths, a 33% increase from 2020 and a 116% increase from 2019. Also, speed was a factor in 33% of all traffic fatalities in 2021 compared with 26 percent over the five years, 2016-2020.
Besides driving too fast and not buckling up, there’s another risk factor: Not realizing the danger posed by black ice.
Last week, the Minnesota Department of Transportation warned motorists that fluctuating temperatures create conditions for black ice, an invisible hazard that catches drivers off-guard and causes crashes.
MnDOT officials pointed out that black ice creates the appearance of a wet surface but is actually a thin, transparent layer of ice on roads and bridges. Black ice forms when melting snow refreezes or when rain, drizzle, mist or fog freezes. It is most common at night and early morning when it is dark and temperatures are lowest.
Black ice often forms in tunnels and other shaded areas, on overpasses and bridges, and near lakes and rivers. The hazard can also form when snow temporarily melts from auto exhaust emissions or tire heat and from moisture vapors given off by industries located close to the highway.
MnDOT said drivers should remember to:
Slow down on bridges, overpasses and tunnels and on all roads in the early morning when the air temperature rises faster than the pavement temperature.
Avoid applying brakes on ice as it may cause a vehicle to skid.
Do not use cruise control during winter driving conditions.
Use a safe speed for winter driving conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit.
Keep a safe stopping distance from the vehicle in front of them.
Keep both hands on the steering wheel, eyes on the road and stay alert.
Drivers – please be careful out there. Don’t be a statistic. Don’t make bad choices that can end a life.