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Blog Archive: April 2015

May Is Bicycle Safety Month — So Let’s All Get Along

Posted April 30, 2015
“Share the Road.”
It’s more than a slogan. It’s an ideal that saves lives in places where two- and four-wheeled vehicles share paved surfaces. And like most ideals, it’s challenging.
bikes and cars on road in St. Paul, MInn.
Photo: Bicycles on the roadway are, by law, vehicles with the
same rights and responsibilities as motorized vehicles​.
Bicycles on the roadway are, by law, vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities as motorized vehicles. If every person on the road had experience as a driver and a bicyclist, things would be different. But wherever we don’t share each other’s perspectives and experiences, patience can wear thin — and for bikers, that can mean injury or death.

National Bicycle Safety Month

This event is held to remind us we all share responsibility for what happens on our roads, and mutual respect is the key to survival. This time of year, DPS joins the U.S. DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in urging drivers and riders to respect each other's rights and obey traffic laws.

Numbers Tell Us What’s Happening

Safety experts collect statistics on situations like this because the numbers tell us what we’re doing wrong, which leads us to conclusions about safe behavior.
National statistics show that in 2012, 726 bicyclists were killed and an additional 49,000 injured in crashes with motor vehicles; 69 percent of the deaths occurred in urban areas at non-intersections, and about half between 4 p.m. and midnight. A significant majority of those killed and injured were males; the average age of those killed was 43.
Minnesota numbers available in the Office of Traffic Safety Crash Facts publication reflect similar patterns. There were 920 bicycle crashes with motor vehicles in 2012 that caused seven fatalities and 875 injuries. (Minnesota numbers improved slightly in 2013, the latest year for which statistics have been confirmed, but not significantly.) Most crashes (94%) take place in high population areas, and mostly during rush hour. Again, male bicyclists dominate the statistics — they’re three times more likely than female bikers to be involved in a crash.

Police Reports Tell Us Why

For instance, failure to yield the right-of-way was listed most often as a contributing factor for bikers and drivers, although drivers were most often considered at fault (42% vs 28% of the time.)  In second place: other violations by the bicyclist, dominated by disregard for a traffic control device. That translates to running a stop sign or a red light — a foolhardy decision for a person with no protection. The second most common factor cited for the drivers is distraction. That’s a factor in about 25 percent of all crashes nowadays, and a dangerous fact for bikers, motorcyclists and all other vehicles.
NHTSA offers these straightforward tips for bikers and drivers:
  • Wear a properly-fitted helmet that meets Consumer Product Safety Commission standards.
  • Check your bike before heading out, including tires, brakes, handlebars and seats.
  • Ride as a vehicle on the road; always travel in the same direction as traffic.
  • Obey traffic signs, signals and lane markings; signal turns; follow local laws.
  • Be predictable. Ride in a straight line; use hand signals at every lane change or turn.
  • Be visible: wear bright colors, reflective materials and lights on your bicycle at night.
  • Ride focused and alert: don't use electronic devices, and never ride impaired by alcohol or drugs.
  • Respect designated bicycle lanes.
  • Allow at least three feet clearance when passing a bicyclist.
  • Look for cyclists before opening a car door or pulling out from a parking space.
  • Yield to cyclists at intersections and as directed by signs and signals.
  • Look for cyclists when making turns, either left or right.
  • Never drive distracted or impaired. Always buckle up.
There are bike-friendly sites for more information and support for bicycling enthusiasts. One belongs to the League of American Bicyclists, and contains information on special events in May along with more on safety.
As we welcome spring, we should renew our commitment to respectfully sharing the road. All of us want travelers to feel safe in Minnesota — no matter how many wheels they’re using. 

Supporting Justice and Recovery: It’s Crime Victims’ Rights Week

Posted April 23, 2015
A few days ago, on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, we heard the name “Timothy McVeigh” in the news. People may have shuddered at the memory of that infamous criminal, but few of us remember the names of his victims.
In fact, when any crime is committed, the public hears a lot about the event. If the crime was violent, we usually learn the name, age and physical condition of the victim. If not, the victim may or may not be identified. We learn about the investigation, and the criminal’s identity and background; we hear about the criminal’s motive, reputation, family and friends; then about court proceedings and the outcome of a trial, if there is one.
But somewhere, in the background of all this front-page news, is someone else — or perhaps more than one person — who has been significantly harmed. The damage is often financial. Sometimes there is physical injury involved. Physical wounds can easily lead to financial loss. In many cases, trauma goes beyond anger and resentment; the psychological after-effects of crimes can be crippling. But we don’t hear so much about those things.
Is the victim forgotten?
Photo: National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2015 marks 50
years of crime victims’ compensation in the U.S.
Actually, no. There are people who remember and help. There is the federal Office of Justice Programs for Victims of Crime. There is the Minnesota DPS Office of Justice Programs. And there is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which is happening right now.
Since 1981, Crime Victims’ Rights Week has challenged our state and the whole country to remove the barriers to full justice for all victims of crime.  National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2015 marks 50 years of crime victims’ compensation in the U.S.
Minnesota created its violent-crime victim compensation program in 1974, 41 years ago, and the DPS Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is a major source of help and support for people seeking restitution, reparations and resources as they recover.
OJP is unlike any other division of the Department of Public Safety. They exist primarily to protect the rights of those who are victimized by crime.  OJP staffers do research and publish data, provide training and assistance to crime-fighting agencies, and award reparations to victims of violent crime. When OJP was created in 2003, it combined five programs from other state agencies into one operation that helps victims, and advocates for children in the justice system, abused individuals, and others whose voices may not be heard.
If you’ve been a victim of crime in Minnesota — including homicide, assault, domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, robbery, kidnapping, stalking, financial fraud, and certain criminal vehicular crashes — OJP may have assistance to offer. The Minnesota Crime Victims Reparations Program was established to assist victims with financial losses as they recover from a violent crime.
Crime Victims’ Rights Week is an awareness event, but the need goes on year-round. You can use this information to make a healing difference for yourself or others.

MSP K-9 Unit: Sniffing Out Trouble, Bringing Home the Gold

Posted April 20, 2015
This spring, Minnesota State Patrol (MSP) K-9 handlers and their four-footed partners took top honors at the USPCA Regional Certification Trials. That’s the U.S. Police Canine Association, and their wins qualify them to participate in the June U.S. championships, where they’ve won three national titles since 2007.
In Region 12, Trooper Doug Rauenhorst and K-9 Diesel won 1st place in Vehicle Searches, and Trooper Derrick Hagen and his K-9 partner Jack won 1st place Overall. At the Region 18 event, Sgt. Gary Harms and Otis placed 2nd Overall, and Trooper Brett Westbrook and K-9 Skippy took 1st place Overall.
There are 10 “K-9 troopers” at work in Minnesota and they’re each teamed up with one MSP handler who works almost exclusively with that dog.
Photo of Diesel a dog in the K-9 unit of the Minnesota State Patrol
Photo: This is Diesel, a Belgian Malinois, Minnesota
State Patrol K-9. Most dogs are 18 months old

at acquisition and work for about 10 years.
The State Patrol dogs — mostly Belgian Malinois (see photo), with the occasional Labrador or Shepherd recruit — are trained to detect the smell of narcotics and/or explosives. They’re tested and selected for MSP training based on specific, individual characteristics like the drive to hunt, ability to detect scent, and…well…dogged determination. The best drug dogs just don’t want to give up.
That trait shows up clearly in certification trials, so called because the dogs are certified by the USPCA when they perform adequately at the trials. Certification is important when evidence discovered by a K-9 is presented in court.
The events include competitions in which handlers work their dogs through three rooms. One room is clean — no drugs, but lots of distractions (food, human and chemical odors.)  The other two are set up similarly, but with hidden drugs, and the dog is expected to recognize the drug odor and pinpoint its location with behavioral cues. The dog is scored on timing and behavior; the handler is scored on ability to work the dog and read the animal’s cues.
A second certification test involves a line-up of five vehicles. Three have drugs hidden in them; two are clean. Again, timing, accuracy and teamwork are the criteria as judges watch for outstanding performance by dogs and handlers.
And our Minnesota State Patrol dogs shine. Their primary trainer, Sgt. Chad Mills, and Cpl. Tony Snyder were instructed in U.S. Border Patrol training methods. They selected and trained all 10 of the current K-9 teams. Trooper Derrick Hagen has just completed a K-9 instructor program; he now has the ability to train dogs in both drug and explosives detection.
The Troopers and their dogs conduct about 400 missions each year.
A trained dog can walk the top of a semi-load of materials and recognize the smell of drugs. He (or she; they use dogs of both genders) can slip through the spaces between loaded items to pinpoint the location of a stash. The accuracy and efficiency their noses and their drive bring to MSP operations saves time, money — and ultimately, lives. In many cases, they’re keeping narcotics out of the hands of dealers.
National USPCA competitions are coming up soon in Jackson, Miss., and we’ll let you know if the MSP K-9 Unit brings home the gold again.

Traffic and Tornadoes - Survival is a Matter of Attention

Posted April 16, 2015
This is Distracted Driving Week; it’s also Severe Weather Awareness Week, so from April 12–18 we have two safety issues to consider. Just don’t concentrate on both at once, please. Multitasking is not as simple as it sounds. says the word “multitask” has been around since the 1960s. The first definition is about computers performing two digital functions at once, which might have been big news in the ’60s. In a second definition, there’s a human application: to perform two-or-more tasks simultaneously.
What they do not say — and what is widely misunderstood — is that the concept of multitasking applies safely to activities like walking and chewing gum, or watching Jeopardy and stirring soup. Definitions say nothing about hurtling through space in a metal box while staring at the screen of an MP3 player and considering music options. That’s not multitasking; that’s life-threatening.
Here’s the reason, in short: There are thinking tasks and non-thinking tasks, and only certain combinations are safe.
One thinking task (driving) and one non-thinking task (listening to music) are generally safe in combination. Two non-thinking tasks are fine, too. But when you combine two thinking tasks — driving a car and reading a text message, for instance — you’re not watching the road, and you’re in mental-overload territory. A computer will slow down or shut down when asked to do more than it’s built to accomplish at one time. A human, too often, will make an error. If the human is moving through space behind the wheel of a vehicle at the time, the error can be deadly.
Fortunately, you can eliminate one of the thinking tasks by leaving your electronic device out of reach and committing your attention to the task of driving.
Photo: Having an emergency kit on hand is a great way to be
prepared for this roller coaster of a weather season.
As mentioned, this is also Severe Weather Awareness Week.  The topics appear to be unrelated, but it all comes down to paying attention.
You know it’s springtime. You know springtime in Minnesota brings hailstorms,  wind, rain, tornadoes and flash floods. You may also be aware that other states have already experienced the horror of a great-plains style, tornado-spawning storm that left behind it flooded towns and devastated lives.
So…are you ready?  Have you thought about how you’ll survive such an event? Time to do that now, before things get ugly.
Happily, you don’t have to invent this wheel. Start with the DPS website to raise your awareness.  Find out about today’s tornado drills and what to do when they happen. The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has done half the work for you by highlighting each weather threat and providing a list for your emergency kit.
That accomplished, all you have to do is keep an eye on the sky and an ear on your radio or TV news. Or check your phone, if you have a weather app.
Just don’t do it while you’re driving, and we’ll get through this spring alive.

Would You Pay $145 to Read Your Next Text Message?

Posted April 13, 2015
It could happen — so please, share this message.
The DPS Office of Traffic Safety says distracted drivers cause, on average, about 17,200 crashes each year — a lot of preventable misery. But that’s less than three percent of the licensed drivers in Minnesota.
Woman texting while driving
Photo: Don't text while driving; you could get a ticket
or actually kill somebody.
So why do you see someone texting (or dialing, or eating, or fiddling with electronics) behind the wheel every time you drive your vehicle? Because you’re probably looking at the ones who haven’t crashed. Yet.
You’re seeing the people who have not been taught — by denting fenders, ruining vehicles, clogging up traffic, injuring themselves and others, actually killing somebody, or at least getting a ticket for breaking the law — that they need to keep their eyes on the road.
That last possibility is about to change for many of them, to the tune of $125-to-$145.
Today is the beginning of a week-long “enhanced enforcement” effort that covers Minnesota from top to bottom.  (Translation: extra officers on patrol everywhere, watching for specific, illegal behaviors)The Minnesota State Patrol and 306 other law enforcement agencies, including local police and county sheriffs, will be looking for distracted drivers, stopping them and ticketing them. They’re trying to impress on the drivers who cause about 25 percent of the crashes in this state that their behavior is dangerous, unwise and illegal.
If you injure or kill someone while you’re texting behind the wheel, you can be charged with criminal vehicular operation or vehicular homicide. There are people who would never consider driving drunk — people who sincerely believe that drunk driving is a horrible, irresponsible thing to do — who have no problem at all with picking up a text message at 70 mph.  They do it because they think it’s safe. They’re good drivers. They can multi-task. Everyone does it. It’s only a few seconds.
But do they ask themselves this: Is this text message more important than the lives of the people in vehicles around me?  Or the life of the person sitting next to me?  Is it important enough to risk running into the ditch?  Have I ever received a text message I’d pay $145 for the privilege of reading immediately?
If the answers to those questions is yes, they don’t belong behind the wheel and you don’t want to share the road with them. If it’s no…then there’s no excuse for their distracted-driving behavior.
This is a list of behaviors that help prevent distracted-driving crashes, so take it to heart and share it wherever you can. 
  • Put the phone down, turn it off or place it out of reach.
  • Pre-program radio stations and keep music easy to access.
  • Adjust mirrors and ventilation before traveling.
  • Map out the destination and enter the GPS route in advance.
  • Avoid messy foods. Secure drink containers.
  • Teach children the importance of safe behavior in a vehicle.
  • Speak up to stop distracted driving by others, and offer to help with anything that takes the driver’s attention off the road.
Enforcement helps deter dangerous driving, but police alone can’t eliminate bad decisions. Fortunately, we know that one of the best ways to change personal behavior, as proven again and again, is to apply social pressure. Make it unacceptable. Tell people how you feel about it. Model the behavior you want from others. Eventually, distracted driving will become less prevalent —and so will the ugly consequences.

Time to Talk Tornadoes — Severe Weather Awareness Week, April 13–17

Posted April 9, 2015
American journalist and cartoonist Kin Hubbard (1868-1930) pointed out the real importance of weather in our lives. “Don't knock the weather,” he wrote. “Nine-tenths of the people couldn't start a conversation if it didn't change once in a while.”  He may have been a tad harsh — most Minnesotans keep other topics in reserve — but our weather is definitely chat-worthy.
Take spring, for example. It’s an ongoing emotional experience.
tornado damage from Hugo, Minn. in 2008
Photo: Tornado damage in Hugo, Minn. (2008).
One morning, the streets dry out and the lakes turn liquid. Suddenly there is heat in the sun, and rain that brings that warm-earth smell. This is followed by small bursts of color we haven’t seen for months. People grow giddy with anticipation. They talk to each other about budding trees and seed catalogs, and robin-sightings, and whether or not we need rain.
And then, after unpredictable weeks of incremental weather improvements, they are rewarded for their patient, months-long trek through snow, sleet and ice — with tornadoes, floods, straight-line winds, lightning, hail and heat waves.
And it’s still a fabulous place to live! You just have to know how to survive.
Severe Weather Awareness Week (SWAW) occurs every April to help with exactly that. If you’re familiar with Minnesota’s spring and summer weather threats, visit the SWAW website to refresh your memory. If you’re not, just start a conversation with a native Minnesotan — and then look up the survival techniques that keep the rest of us intact.
The site is arranged around our least-favorite summer weather — one topic each day, from April 13-17, with the annual, statewide tornado drill scheduled on Thursday.
Click near Monday, Tuesday, etc., and you’ll find information on weather alerts and warnings; facts on lightning (yes, it can strike twice), hail and floods; some surprising data on extreme heat in Minnesota (it’s our most deadly weather threat); and instructions on how to respond when you hear tornado sirens.
Thursday, April 16 is Tornado Drill Day, when everyone gets to practice responding to the sirens. These occur at 1:45 p.m., and at 6:55 p.m., giving those at work (first or second shift), at home, in health care facilities, schools, or anywhere they might be, the opportunity to practice reporting to the nearest tornado-safe location.
The website also provides a great-looking PowerPoint presentation on what SWAW is, how the website can help, what to do about which weather events, how to prepare an emergency plan, making a survival kit, and much more. It would be appropriate at any community meeting, or you could proudly present to your service club.
So go ahead — start a conversation about the weather. Ask someone if they know about the tornado drills on Thursday. Tell them the Department of Public Safety has a Severe Weather Awareness Week website.  This is your opportunity to do more than talk about the weather. Next week, we do something about it.

Craft Brewing Thrives in Minnesota, and DPS Plays a Role

Posted April 6, 2015
Craft brewing is one of the fastest-growing businesses in Minnesota, as craft beers gain popularity and breweries open and expand all over the state. The national Brewers Association, in fact, lists two Minnesota companies in their Top 50 Breweries of 2014 list.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED) receives applications every month from entrepreneurs who want to start their own breweries. There’s an interesting history to all this, and some pretty strict laws for potential brewers to understand. They’re designed to protect the public, of course, and the AGED staff prides itself in helping new businesses get off the ground legally. They’re interested in supporting economic success as they license start-ups and enforce safety laws.
Craft breweries have been around for decades, and they’re all over the country. In Minnesota, the competition really heated up in the last five years. In 2005, our state was home to five breweries; that number is expected to grow to 111 by the end of 2015, and there’s no indication that things are going to slow down soon.
Minnesota Brewer License Growth 2005 – Current
​2005 ​2006 ​2007 ​2008 ​2009 ​2010 ​2011 ​2012 ​2013 ​2014 ​2015
5​ ​7 ​7 ​7 ​8 ​13 ​20 ​20 ​43 ​69 ​111
Most of our successful craft brewers start out by experimenting in their own homes. The American Home Brewers Association says there are about 1.2 million home brewers in the U.S., manufacturing beer at home for personal consumption, sharing and tasting contests. That kind of production is legal in Minnesota — but selling the beer requires a license, and that’s where AGED comes in.
Alcohol Production Laws Are About Safety
The AGE Division licenses craft brewers before they start producing beer for sale, because that ensures they’ll meet production criteria up-front. They need to meet standards that assure a safe product for sale and consumption.
image of beer bottles
Photo: The number of craft breweries is expected
to grow to 111 by the end of 2015.
The safety factors are so important that selling alcoholic beverages without a license is a felony. Minnesota law and federal law require alcoholic beverage manufacturers to get an alcoholic beverage manufacturer’s license prior to selling the alcohol they produce. Unfortunately for those who don’t do their homework, it’s not uncommon for AGED agents inspecting a facility prior to licensure to find that the brewer has already produced a product with intent to sell it— an infraction can lead to a facility shut-down, fines and delay of licensing.
In addition to the paperwork parts of their jobs, AGED staffers also investigate complaints about alcohol-related businesses (1,400+ last year) and keep up with the growing inspections, licensing and renewal operations in a thriving industry. They also provide alcohol-awareness training and materials for businesses to help them (and their customers) comply with state laws. (You’ve seen one of the signs: “Your Birthday must be ON or BEFORE Today’s Date in 1994…”)
Helping Producers and Consumers
Liquor licensing, inspections and investigations by the Department of Public Safety AGED help prevent the production and sale of unregulated and counterfeit alcohol in our state — a process that assures the public a safe, high-quality alcohol product. If you’re considering a foray into the world of brewing for profit, take a look at the AGED website and find out where to start. They’re waiting for your call.

It's April - You Dig?

Posted April 2, 2015
It’s springtime. The ground is thawing, and you probably know somebody who wants to plant a tree, install a fence, pull up those ugly shrubs, or otherwise disturb the earth below its top layer.
If you do, The Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety (MNOPS) asks you to share these thoughts with them:
call 811 before you dig
There are about 68,000 miles of buried utilities in Minnesota — things like pipelines and cables and wires and gas lines. End-to-end, they would run the length of Minnesota 167 times. From great big transmission pipelines full of oil flowing from fields to refineries, to the relatively tiny delivery lines that run natural gas into your house to feed the furnace, and including your electrical service, communications cables and even your water, that’s a lot of stuff you do not want to disturb.
Obviously, one can do more damage with a backhoe than a shovel — but even a garden spade can put your whole entire neighborhood in the dark. Ask your local electric company, and they’ll tell you. It’s been done.
So what’s the answer? Easy: Call 811 Before You Dig. Place one phone call to Minnesota’s One-Call Center, a few days ahead of time. The call nets you one savvy utility locator who comes to your yard and marks all the places you shouldn’t dig with cheerful colors that go away when you cut the grass. (Or if you’d rather, you can make the request online.)
It’s such a great idea, there’s a whole ad campaign built around it. There’s a whole month named after it! There’s a Facebook site!
Yes, April is National Safe Digging Month. And if you care about preventing embarrassment, inconvenience and potential disasters in your neighborhoods, it’s more interesting than it sounds. 
The people at Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a member-driven association of folks in the underground utility industry, have dedicated themselves to protecting those utilities — and as a consequence, protecting your life and property. Their website at is full of interesting things, but the really good stuff is under “Damage Prevention” on the top menu bar.  If you click there and go to “Toolkits,” you’ll find videos, public service announcements, and even news releases and materials for your website.
If you have access to a city, school, church or club website, for instance, you can take the artwork “button” from CGA and link directly to their resources. Download the “811” logo to get people’s attention. Borrow the press release and send it to your local paper. Everything you need is there, including a planning calendar to help you cover all the bases.
It’s a worthwhile thing to do, and here’s why:  In 2013, about 25 percent of the underground utility damage done was reported as “No notification made.”  That means nobody bothered to call 811, and as a result, there was damage to a utility, inconvenience for those it served, and — depending on the utility in question — a lot of people in potential danger.
In the same year, statistics showed about a one percent chance of hitting a utility if you called 811 first. Remember…68,000 miles. Reducing your chances to one percent with a five-minute phone call sounds good.
So please, call 811 before you dig. And do your neighbors a favor — help spread the word.