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Toward Zero Deaths: Exactly what it sounds like

Nov. 2, 2017

Photo of materials at the Toward Zero Deaths conference
Photo: The Toward Zero Deaths conference may only happen once a year, but its attendees work around the clock to keep Minnesota roads safe.

If you’ve never heard of Minnesota’s Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) project, don’t worry. But if you spend any time at all on Minnesota’s roads – whether as a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, or pedestrian – you’ll definitely want to know. It’s a joint venture of organizations and agencies with the common vision that even one traffic-related death is too many. In short, they’re working toward zero deaths.

Which is why about 900 of them got together in St. Paul last week for the annual TZD conference. It’s a forum to share best practices, identify ongoing and new traffic challenges, and share new approaches to reducing traffic fatalities and life-changing injuries. The conference is hosted by the state departments of health, public safety and transportation.

Experts gave presentation on such topics as DWI trials, teenage drivers, and how Super Bowl LII will affect traffic safety. The attendees came from the fields of education, enforcement, engineering, judicial, and emergency medical services. Just think of anyone who might have an interest in making roads safer for all: school teachers, paramedics, judges, sheriffs, city engineers, auto manufacturers and cell phone service providers make up just the tip of the iceberg.

This year they even talked about autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars. Jim Hedlund of Highway Safety North delivered a keynote on the promises and challenges of self-driving vehicles, then participated in a panel discussion on the traffic safety implications. Hedlund outlined the traffic safety issues that autonomous vehicles can present, such as testing and operating them, what responsibilities fall to states, and what responsibilities fall to national organizations. Considering that 26 states and the District of Columbia already have autonomous vehicle legislation or executive orders, it’s a timely discussion.

Another hot topic on the TZD conference docket was drugged driving. It, too, is a well-timed subject, given the recent explosion of DWI incidents related to the opioid epidemic. There were 2,003 drug-related crashes nationwide in 1993. By 2015, that number had more than tripled to 7,438. Fortunately, presenter Chuck Hayes of the International Association of Chiefs of Police enumerated strategies to reduce these numbers again, such as increased public education, stronger legislation, and enhanced training for law enforcement officers.

So next time you get on the road, remember that hundreds of people are working – not just at an annual conference, but year-round – from every angle imaginable to make that road safer for you.