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Blog Archive: July 2014

Crash! Oh Great. Now What?

 
Posted July 28, 2014
 
If you’re careful and lucky, it will never happen.
 
If you’re careless, or you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may find yourself needing basic information on what to do when you’re involved in a crash. In a recent “Ask the Trooper” column, the State Patrol Trooper Jesse Grabow provided this information, and it’s worth sharing.
 
“What to do” if you’re in a vehicle crash depends on circumstances — each case is different, and the parties involved must evaluate the incident and decide on the best course of action.
 
First, minimize risk to yourself and others. If it’s not a serious crash, and there are no injuries, it may be best to get your vehicles out of the traffic lanes and into a safe position before getting out or exchanging information with the other driver. Your ability to do that will depend on the amount of traffic going by, the highway conditions and your location — a curve, a hill, or a blind spot complicates matters. Always choose caution over speed. Your adrenaline level might be pretty high, and you’ll be shaky. Try to slow down and think carefully about staying safe.
 
Photo: Motorist involved in a crash.
If your vehicle is disabled and you cannot move it, you must evaluate what is more dangerous — staying in the vehicle, or leaving it and getting to safety on foot. (If you stay in your vehicle, put on your seatbelt.)
 
If for some reason you’ve lost sight of the other vehicle, or lost contact with the other motorist in the crash, report that ASAP to law enforcement to prevent “hit and run” issues. If someone in the crash is injured or killed, you’re required by law to call the nearest law enforcement agency or 911 as quickly as possible.
 
Similarly, if you come upon a crash, your actions depend on the situation. Each person must evaluate the circumstances and decide how to minimize risk to themselves if they decide to help.
 
If you are the first on the scene and you stop to render aid, park your vehicle well off the roadway and far from the crash so it won’t be a hazard to passers-by or emergency workers. Warn other drivers with four-way flashers, flares, flashlights or some other means.
 
If there is personal injury, serious property damage or danger to other motorists, call 911. You’ll be asked to provide location information — maybe distance from an intersection, or a milepost number. Account for all vehicle occupants and aid the injured if you are qualified. Never move injured persons unless they are in danger from traffic, fire or excessive bleeding.
 
If you have questions concerning traffic-related laws in Minnesota, just “Ask a Trooper” on the State Patrol website.
 

Throwback Thursdays on DPS Facebook

 
Posted July 24, 2014
 
On the DPS Facebook page, you’ll find topics from alcohol to arson, and flood damage to fire fatalities. You can vote for the best-looking State Patrol squad car in the U.S. or find out how Homeland Security ramps up during an All-Star Game in Minneapolis. You can even watch what happens at a traffic stop by checking out the dash-cam videos.
 
And if you’re amused by ancient technology, or you’re fond of nostalgia, Throwback Thursdays are for you. That’s when DPS shares items from an archive of safety photos and messages used over the years. And that’s…years and years. There’s material from a time when car wheels had spokes and billboards were black and white.
 
Throwback Thursday Keep Calm Graphic
What’s interesting, if not to say disheartening, is that safety-related images have changed along with technology, but safety messages have remained basically the same. The first State Patrol car, for instance, was a Ford Model A. (According to the photo of the officer standing next to the old squad, the hats have improved. But those knee-high boots were really cool.) The cars didn’t go nearly as fast as today’s cruisers, but apparently drivers were already pushing the limits, because there were messages about slowing down, even in those days.
 
If you look around at Thursday posts, you’ll find a photo of a vintage Harley Davidson that would make a Hog aficionado drool. The rider is holding a sign that says, “You can have more fun on a gallon of gasolene (sic) than on a barrel of booze.” There is no indication of the reason for misspelling “gasoline” — but however it’s spelled, it cost pennies a gallon when that photo was taken. It’s not clear that the message was about the dangers of alcohol. It could have been about the fun of motorcycle touring. In either case, the image is wonderful.
 
In a highway-safety ad from California, there’s a police officer shaking his fist as he holds the lifeless body of a man in overalls. “This Must Stop,” the ad declares. “Don’t Kill Our Workers.”
 
Judging from the vehicle in the photo, the campaign ran in the 1940s or early ‘50s. And sadly, the problem still exists: U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics from 2012 show that 24 percent of occupational fatalities took place in roadway incidents. “This Must Stop” evolved to a softer, “Give ‘em a brake” and then, with the rise of cell technology, to the current “Orange cones. No Phones.”
 
But the problem doesn’t seem to abate — which is frustrating, because at its core, it’s a simple matter of consideration for other people. There’s some food for thought, courtesy of Throwback Thursdays.
 
You can share these gems, along with updates on trending events and links to safety tips and blog posts when you like DPS on Facebook.
 
Easy to do…and you’ll like what you find.
 

Minnesota Fire Code - Just the Basics

 
Posted July 21, 2014
 
If you’ve ever looked for an apartment, especially in an older building, you might have asked yourself if that outlet was supposed to be hanging loose — or if the refrigerator should really be plugged into an extension cord. Instinct tells you there ought to be fire codes about things like that.
 
People who plan dream homes wonder about fire and building codes, too, along with people who remodel houses, offices, restaurants or other facilities. The Minnesota State Fire Code is a complex set of rules designed to protect workers and residents. So is the State Building Code. While nobody outside the building trades or fire protection really knows much about them, the basics are interesting, and there are several places to find details.
 
Here are some FAQs:
 
When did the MSFC start, and who controls it?
In 1975, the Legislature created statute allowing the Commissioner of Public Safety to create a state fire code by adopting the national code and adding amendments specific to Minnesota. It’s updated every few years; the current one is from 2007. Changes are subject to the state administrative rulemaking process.
 
Where does the code apply?
MSFC applies statewide, to every kind of structure, in all Minnesota counties, townships, cities and towns, whether or not it has been “adopted” there. It is not enforceable on sovereign tribal land or federally owned property.
 
Who enforces the MSFC?
The fire code official (fire chief of a jurisdiction or the chief’s authorized representative), the State Fire Marshal or the State Fire Marshal’s representative can enforce the code.
 
What’s the difference between State Fire and Building Codes?
The Minnesota State Building Code applies statewide for construction, alteration, repair, and use of structures governed by the code. The Fire Code and the Building Code contain many of the same requirements for new construction, but the MSFC contains provisions related to fire prevention, emergency planning, and various hazards. The Fire Code also lists minimum requirements for existing buildings.
(That’s where you’ll find those electrical issues covered.)
 
Is my local fire code official required to conduct building inspections?
The MSFC gives fire code officials authority to conduct building inspections, but it doesn’t mandate inspections. Many jurisdictions don’t have building inspection programs because they can’t fund inspectors.
 
Who do I contact with a complaint about a possible fire code violation?
Kids in childcare facility.
Photo: Kids in a childcare facility.
Contact the State Fire Marshal (firecode@state.mn.us) for the following structures:
  • Public schools and charter schools used for K-12 education
  • Hotels and motels, vacation rentals, etc.
  • Child/adult care programs licensed by the Minn. Dept. of Human Services:
    • Child and adult care centers
    • Chemical dependency and residential treatment programs
    • Day training and habilitation services
    • Group/family child care (residential)
    • Child and adult foster care (residential)
    • Certified Medicare or Medicaid healthcare facilities
    • State licensed healthcare facilities
    • Correctional facilities
For all other occupancies, complaints should be first directed to the local fire chief or fire marshal.
 
How do I ensure my building project complies with state fire and building codes?
First contact your local building official, if you have one. Even in areas without a designated building official, construction must comply with codes. Most construction projects are required to have plans prepared by a Minnesota-licensed architect or engineer who will conduct a code review.
 

Can't Happen to you? Logic and Data Say It Can

 
Posted July 17, 2014
 
Everybody knows that speed is a factor in traffic crashes and deaths. Anyone — even people so young they can’t drive yet — can tell you it’s easier to lose control of a vehicle that’s moving too fast for conditions. And if you’ve ridden a bike or a skateboard, you know it hurts more to crash at high speed. Logically, that would extrapolate to: High-speed crashes do more damage. And yet, despite the logic, speeding on roads and highways is common behavior.
 
People tell themselves, “It’s not going to happen to me” while crashes, injuries and deaths caused by illegal, unsafe speeds go on and on. Theoretically — logically — the threat of injury should help drivers remember to drive legally and cautiously. But because of our human ability to deny reality, it becomes necessary to create another reminder.
 
Photo of car that crashed into a pole.
Photo: Car crash due to speeding.
From now through July 27, the Minnesota State Patrol and nearly 400 cooperating law enforcement agencies are cracking down on speeders in an effort to reduce those crashes, injuries and deaths. You’ll see more squad cars and radar guns on Minnesota highways, and a greater-than-usual number of cars pulled to the shoulder with flashing lights behind them. And if you’re smart, you’ll start to believe that it could happen to you — if not a crash, then at least an expensive reminder to slow down.
 
According to DPS data, one in five fatal crashes is caused by illegal, unsafe speed. That sounds like a bone-dry statistic until you consider that 387 people died in crashes last year. If you eliminate one in five of those crashes, there would be 77 people living who are currently not alive, and 77 fewer families grieving the permanent, preventable loss of someone they dearly loved.
 
Ironically, speeding doesn’t save much time. Traveling 10 miles at 75 mph versus 65 shaves off about one minute and 12 seconds. If someone asked you to risk your life to save just over a minute, you’d tell them to forget it. But people do it all the time. And when they do that, they’re risking other people’s lives, too. They don’t think they’re endangering anyone, because if you recall, it’s never going to happen to them. But it happened to 387 people last year, so somewhere, their logic is faulty.
 
The costs of speeding tickets vary by county, but they reach $120 or more for traveling 10 mph over the limit. Motorists stopped at 20 over will be charged twice that amount, and those ticketed at more than 100 mph can lose their licenses for six months — assuming they live.
 
Whatever a person’s motivation for exceeding the speed limit, hard facts make it seem that the reward is not worth the risk. And from now through July 27, the odds of getting busted are high enough to remove any doubt.
 

Motorcyclists: Start Saving Motorcyclists

 
Posted July 14, 2014
 
Most drivers in Minnesota and many in other states are familiar with the “Start Seeing Motorcyclists” bumper sticker. The stickers are produced by the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center (MMSC) and provided free to anyone who wants to remind other drivers to look out for two-wheeled motorists. Riders in every climate share the “less visible” disadvantage, but in Minnesota, where they’re on the roads for only six or seven months each year, the danger of going unseen by other drivers is even greater. That’s one significant risk factor for bikers, and it shows up in the data.
 
In most motorcycle crashes that involve another vehicle, police officers associate contributing factors with the other driver rather than the motorcyclist. In fact, 39 percent of two-vehicle motorcycle crashes are due to failure to yield right-of-way (“I didn’t see him”) by the larger vehicle. That’s followed by driver distraction at 21 percent. That makes 60 percent of those crashes preventable by vehicle drivers who simply pay attention to what they’re doing.
 
Photo: Rider in a motorcycle safety training course.
 
Fact is, however, that more than half (55 percent in 2013) of motorcycle crashes are single-vehicle events. No one else is involved; the biker hits a stationary object or turns the bike over. Not surprisingly, speed is the primary contributing factor, followed closely by inexperience, distraction and chemical impairment. In short, it’s human error — which makes 55 percent of all motorcycle crashes preventable by the motorcycle rider, himself. (The male pronoun will be used here for simplicity.)
 
Biker inexperience, as mentioned, is another significant factor. Typically, a motorcyclist gets into a situation with no plan to get out safely — and lack of a plan is due to lack of training and experience. In addition to newly endorsed riders each year, middle-aged people are returning to motorcycling, and crash data indicate that rider training is crucial to safe operation.
 
The MMSC makes courses available at 30 locations across Minnesota from April through October for every level of rider, beginning to advanced. Course participants report that there’s always something new to learn, and refreshing skills, even after years of riding, increases rider safety.
 
That’s something to consider carefully, because (for obvious reasons) a motorcyclist involved in a traffic crash has a higher risk of fatality than other drivers. In 2013, nearly five percent of motorcycle crashes, with or without other vehicles involved, were fatal. That’s not a large percentage — but it’s a large number when every number represents a death. If training keeps riders safer, the question looks like a no-brainer.
 
Here’s another one: In 2013, 60 motorcycle riders (seven passengers and 53 operators) lost their lives on Minnesota roads. Forty-three of the operators were tested for alcohol. Sixteen (37%) of those 43 tested positive — and 14 of them were over the legal limit. No one knows about the 10 who weren’t tested. But we do know that more than a third of all 2013 biker deaths involved impaired riders. Statistically, sober riders ride longer.
 
Vehicle drivers should Start Seeing Motorcyclists — that’s true. But there’s a lot that motorcyclists can do to start saving motorcyclists, and it might start with a visit to the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center website.
 
The Department of Public Safety will keep trying to convince drivers to watch out for riders, but the crash numbers will go down even faster as motorcyclists resolve to watch out for themselves.
 

Spring Flood Damage Estimates Coming In; Governor Requests Federal Aid

 
Posted July 10, 2014
 
The process of assessing storm-and-flood damage to public infrastructure continued this week, as officials from DPS and FEMA met with local leaders to tour damaged areas and collect documentation for “preliminary damage assessments,” or PDAs. The assessment teams visited 15 Minnesota counties and may travel to more areas as water recedes and damage becomes visible.
 
Counties assessed this week are:
Photo: DPS and FEMA officials conducting damage assessments to public infrastructure.
  • Blue Earth
  • Brown
  • Carver
  • Chippewa
  • Dakota
  • Freeborn
  • Hennepin
  • Martin
  • Murray
  • Nicollet
  • Pipestone
  • Ramsey
  • Scott
  • Sibley
  • Steele
Last week, the team covered the following counties:
  • Jackson
  • Nobles
  • Renville
  • Rock
The PDA is required because damages must reach a certain level before Governor Dayton can request a presidential disaster declaration that makes the state eligible for federal disaster funds. At this point, damages reported by counties total more than $55 million and $10.8 million in eligible damages have been documented through preliminary damage assessments. The FEMA threshold for federal assistance is $7.3 million in statewide eligible damages.
 
Minnesota’s federal disaster aid request is for the Public Assistance program. Funds would go to state and local jurisdictions, and certain not-for-profit organizations, for debris removal, emergency protective measures and repair or replacement of facilities.
 
On July 9, Governor Mark Dayton requested that President Barack Obama declare a major disaster in Minnesota. In his letter to President Obama, Governor Dayton described widespread flood damage across Minnesota, and noted that he has expanded the state’s peacetime state of emergency to include 16 additional counties – bringing the total counties impacted to 51.
 

Fire in Minnesota — 25 Years of Data-Driven Progress

 
Posted July 7, 2014
 
Every year for several decades, Minnesota fire departments of all sizes have reported to the State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) information on every emergency call. The SFMD started sharing their data with the public 25 years ago, when the 1989 edition of Fire in Minnesota was compiled and published. The fire marshal at that time was Tom Brace, and he stated in a preface that the document was “…prepared by a newly formed section within the State Fire Marshal Division known as Public Education and Data Management.”
 
From the beginning, they linked hard data to fire-safety education. Subsequently, the concept of mining data to find the behavioral causes of fires, and then telling people how to avoid them, was titled, “Fighting fires with facts.”
 
In 1989 there were two counties from which 100 percent of the fire departments reported their fire statistics. That’s two counties out of 87 — not an impressive number. But the system was new, and the usefulness of the data had not yet been proven. Statewide, about 66 percent of fire departments turned in their numbers.
 
Firefighter fighting a house fire.
Photo: Firefighter spraying water on a house fire.
Twenty-five years later, only six counties fell short of 100 percent participation. Statewide, 99 percent of the 785 fire departments in Minnesota reported data on emergency calls.
 
In 1989, reporting fire stats involved paper, pencils, envelopes and stamps — although the report writer does announce a bit breathlessly that 40 departments were “…reporting on computer…by disk.” In 2013, fire department personnel went online to contribute to the 25th (2013) edition of Fire in Minnesota. The preliminary version is on the SFMD website now.
 
Comparisons between 1989 and 2013 data have an apples-to-oranges factor, since the reporting rate in 1989 was much lower. But there are clear trends and differences.
 
In 1989, the report stated that “Heating continues to be the leading cause of fire…” The number-one culprit in these heating fires was the wood-burning heater, with the top cause shown as “lack of maintenance or design/installation deficiencies.” In the 2013 report, unattended cooking is the main cause of structure fires at 49 percent, with heating a distant second at nine percent. In 1989, cooking fires were only 11 percent of the total. It appears that heating devices have grown much safer, while attention to cooking needs major improvement.
 
Today, as a quarter-century ago, Fire in Minnesota details the circumstances of each fire casualty. There were 90 people killed by fire in 1989. Ten of them died in a single house fire in Remer, early on New Year’s Day. The report states that no smoke detectors were present in the house — a problem that remains today, even though fire-death numbers have trended downward to 44 in 2013.
 
Another factor consistent over 25 years is that most fire deaths occur where people feel safest — at home. Careless smoking was for years the number-one cause of civilian fire deaths, possibly because it’s so commonly combined with alcohol use. Today, careless smoking and unattended cooking share the top slot. Again, the data are showing us that kitchen fires are far too frequent and deadly, so cooking is stressed, along with smoking and heating, in most modern public education efforts.
 
Only one thing has not changed since the state began collecting data on fires in Minnesota: the causes are 99 percent behavioral. There are three significant causes of destructive fires, as Tom Brace and subsequent fire marshals have said. They are men, women and children.
 
Fires are largely preventable, and behavior is changeable. That’s why the State Fire Marshal Division and fire departments statewide will continue their efforts to fight fire with facts.
 

Crash Facts: An Annual Dose of Roadway Reality

 
Posted July 3, 2014
 
Every year, the DPS Office of Traffic Safety produces a document called Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts. It’s a “who, what, when, where and why” of traffic crashes — not a pleasant read, but an enlightening assortment of data that exposes the awful reality of events on our roadways.
 
For Peggy Riggs, that reality turned life upside down last August when a texting driver killed her son, David, in front of their Oakdale home. David was just 20 years old. He was about to turn into the family’s driveway when he was hit. He never regained consciousness and died four days later when they took him off life support. On June 30, Peggy appeared at a DPS Office of Traffic Safety news conference where speakers highlighted Crash Facts data and the personal tragedy behind the statistics. She was there to tell David’s story — to talk about why someone she loved so much is now part of a data collection.
 
Like its predecessors, the 2013 edition of Crash Facts breaks out data reported by law enforcement and drivers into categories like alcohol, seat belts, motorcycles, pedestrians, bicycles, and even trains. It details events by vehicle type, crash location, and driver age and gender, revealing trends in specific types of crashes. Impaired driving, for instance, has been a major culprit for decades. Distracted driving numbers, on the other hand, have exploded with the advent of cell phones and texting. And for many years, the same four have dominated the bad news: alcohol, speeding, distraction and lack of seat belts.
 
Craig, Peggy and David Riggs

Craig, Peggy and David Riggs
There are potential surprises in this book. One in seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI on record. That seems like a lot, and then you realize — those are only the ones who got caught.
And here’s an interesting fact: Drivers are legally required to stop for pedestrians at marked and unmarked crosswalks. (Frequent pedestrians may be amazed to learn this.) Further, of 35 pedestrian deaths recorded in 2013, 16 victims were found to have alcohol in their systems. Statistically, that says “Walk sober.”
 
And there is good news in the data. Seat belt use in Minnesota is approaching 95 percent. The state’s primary seat belt law and a lot of public education are credited for that improvement. Additionally, Minnesota’s fatality rate per-100-million-vehicle-miles traveled is among the lowest in the nation at 0.68. Crash Facts will tell you that’s a decrease from 5.52 in 1966. It will also point out a 32 percent decrease in traffic fatalities from 2004 to 2014.
 
Together, the 357 fatal crashes and 21,960 injury crashes last year work out to an average of just over 61 crashes a day. That’s 61 times every single day that drivers in Minnesota ran into each other or something else they shouldn’t have hit, killing 387 people and injuring 30,653. That totals 31,040. According to U.S. Census Bureau 2010 data, there are 742 cities in Minnesota and only 29 of them have a population greater than 31,040. That’s a very large number.
 
One fact that becomes clear on reviewing circumstances of Minnesota traffic crashes — and a fact the Department of Public Safety would very much like people to remember — is that almost all crashes are preventable.
 
The other fact — the most important one — is that every number represents a real human being.

Peggy Riggs’ son David — the son, brother, boyfriend, nephew, buddy, classmate, worker, dreamer David — is one of the “numbers” in the 2013 edition of Crash Facts.
 
There’s little else to be said.