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When optimism pays off

Nov. 1, 2018

Toward Zero Deaths leadership and award winners
Toward Zero Deaths leadership and award winners pose at this year’s conference on Oct. 23 in Mankato.

When you work in public safety, it’s important to be realistic. There are some things no one can control that can cause people to get hurt or killed. Which is why “Toward Zero Deaths” may seem like an unrealistic name for a traffic safety program. But the truth is, so much of the tragedy on our roads is preventable and in the control of every person behind the wheel.

Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) is a collaborative program that was started in 2003, and during its 15 years of existence, road fatalities have dropped by 45 percent. There were 655 traffic deaths in Minnesota in 2003; in 2017, there were 358. But even one death is too many, which is why the Department of Public Safety, along with the departments of Transportation and Health, are working toward zero deaths.

TZD doesn’t rely on optimism alone. Last week, hundreds of traffic safety experts from across the state gathered together to share best practices and identify new approaches to reducing deaths and life-changing injuries on Minnesota roads during the annual TZD conference. Ten individuals and organizations also received awards for their efforts in those areas.

The TZD program focuses on four strategic areas, which are sometimes called the four Es:

  • Enforcement: Law enforcement across the state is doing its part to help change dangerous driving behaviors by cracking down on speeders, distracted drivers, drunk drivers and those who fail to buckle up.
  • Engineering: Engineers at all levels examine crashes and fatalities across the state to figure out what roadways could be modified so that they’re safer.
  • EMS: Emergency medical and trauma services are constantly evaluating the best routes and newest methods to provide fast, efficient emergency response and better treat patients of traffic crashes.
  • Education: None of the above works without educating the public on the importance of safe driving habits. Traffic safety experts are in communities across the state, teaching best driving practices to the newest of drivers and the most experienced.

In addition, TZD focuses on child passenger safety and judicial systems. All of these help address the four factors that contribute most often to traffic crashes: speed, distracted driving, drunk driving, and lack of seat belt use.

If zero seems like an unreasonable goal, so be it. If the past 15 years have shown us anything, it’s that if we keep working hard together, we can keep moving toward zero traffic deaths in Minnesota.