ST. PAUL — Minnesota preliminary traffic deaths passed the 300 death mark this past weekend, but the 303 road fatalities in 2011 are well below the 357 at this time in 2010.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety projects 355 deaths for 2011 — which would mark a fourth consecutive annual drop in deaths and a 38 percent reduction in deaths from a decade ago. The projection also means the state is in reach of achieving its goal of 350 traffic deaths by 2014 three years early.
The news comes as state traffic safety officials and stakeholders — law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, engineers, public health officials, advocates and more — meet in Duluth, Nov. 16–17, for the Minnesota’s annual Toward Zero Deaths traffic safety conference.
“Fewer people are getting killed, more motorists are buckling up, and there is a drop in alcohol-related incidents,” says Donna Berger, acting director of DPS Office of Traffic Safety. “But this progress is lost on the fact that preventable crashes are killing hundreds of people annually.”
In the three-year period, 2008–2010, 1,287 people were killed on Minnesota roads at an estimated economic impact of nearly $1.6 billion; thousands more suffered injuries during this same period. Traffic crashes are the leading killer of Minnesotans ages 2–34.
The 2011 deaths to-date include 36 motorcyclists, 27 pedestrians and three bicyclists — each lower compared to 2010 counts. July (46 deaths) and October (43 deaths) have been the deadliest months of the year in 2011 to-date, with January (15) and March (19) the least deadly.
Official cite many factors for the trend of fewer road deaths, pointing to proactive efforts such as targeted enforcement and education campaigns; improved engineering; efficient trauma response; as well as important legislation. Officials also credit driver behavior, safer vehicles and note the economy may be factoring by causing motorists to drive at slower, safer speeds.
What Is Toward Zero Deaths
TZD is the state’s cornerstone traffic safety initiative that is a partnership between DPS, MnDOT, Department of Health (MDH), the University of Minnesota and others. A primary vision of the TZD program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior.
Since the TZD program was established in 2003, traffic deaths have trended downward: 2003 — 655 deaths; 2004 — 567; 2005 — 559; 2006 — 494; 2007 — 510; 2008 — 455; 2009 — 421; 2010 — 411.
TZD programming calls for local groups (law enforcement, engineers, EMTs, others) to partner and tailor safety solutions specific to their communities and issues. TZD focuses on the application of four strategic areas of traffic safety:
• Education — Includes outreach through communities, schools and media; as well as advertising campaigns.
• Enhanced enforcement campaigns — Targeted efforts with focus on seat belts, impaired driving speeding and distracted driving.
• Engineering improvements — Includes road design improvements, as well as cable median barriers, rumble stripes and more to improve the safety of the driving environment.
• Efficient emergency medical and trauma response — Improving the statewide trauma system, so emergency responders and trauma centers can better treat, triage and transfer crash victims.
TZD Conference Background
The TZD conference is a forum to discuss best practices and address ongoing and new traffic challenges. This year’s event will address a range of issues, including effectively communicating with “millennials;” technology implementation at rural intersections; enforcement of ignition interlock; and triaging at multi-casualty crashes. Commissioners from DPS, MnDOT and MDH will speak at the conference during the awards presentation on Wednesday, Nov. 16, when 11 traffic safety leaders will be honored.
Editor’s Note: To schedule interview opportunities with traffic safety officials in Duluth, contact Nathan.Bowie@state.mn.us or 651-398-7195 (cell).