Towards Zero Deaths on our Road
By John L. Fossum, Rice County Attorney
From 2011-2015 Rice County had 22 traffic fatalities. Of those, 3 were alcohol-related. Although this represents a tremendous improvement from previous years, it is still too high a price to pay on our roads. In addition to the fatalities, there were 71 serious injuries in those years, and 19 were alcohol related. At least 4 of the fatalities and 9 of the serious injuries would likely have been prevented by a seatbelt.
The estimated economic impact to this area as result of these incidents is $6,389,900, a large loss for the community to bear. In 2015, Rice County law enforcement officers issued 230 tickets for driving while intoxicated. The primary causes of crashes are alcohol, speed and distracted driving.
Statewide the costs are estimated at $1,777,219,300 for 2015 alone, costs caused by 74,722 crashes, 29,981 injuries and 411 deaths. On an average day in the State of Minnesota, we can expect 205 crashes with 82 injuries and at least one death from a traffic crash.
The Towards Zero Death (TZD) initiative has worked to build awareness and improve public safety. With added enforcement over busy periods the Northfield, Faribault and Dundas police departments along with the Rice County Sheriff’s office and other cooperating agencies hope to get drivers in the habit of wearing their seat belts, driving the speed limit and avoiding cell phone use while driving.
The TZD crew has teamed up to use overtime shifts, funded by a state grant focused on traffic enforcement. Those shifts have resulted in hundreds of contacts with impaired drivers, speeders, people not wearing seat belts, people driving without valid licenses, equipment violations, and inattentive or distracted drivers. Many of the drivers who were stopped were simply warned about the conduct and encouraged to be more careful in the future.
In a car traveling even at the speed limit, bad things can happen very quickly. It is important that all of us use due care on the road and pay attention to our surroundings. Today’s vehicles have a number of built in distractions, large video screens, complex radios, and navigation devices. Add in phones, text messages and email notifications it is easy to think the distractions can be handled without a tragedy.
Be aware that TZD enforcement shifts are coming again starting this week. Pay attention to the road, and your speed and avoid distracted driving. The goal of these enforcement sweeps is not rack up tickets, it is to make all of us safer on the road. You can help the most by being aware of your driving habits and paying attention to the road and your speed. Careful driving keeps you, your family and others on the road safe.
If you see an impaired driver on the road, call 911 and provide enough details so the local law enforcement can deal with that driver. Drinking and driving greatly enhances your risk of being involved in a tragedy or, at the very least, loss of your license, fines and other expenses to try and get your privilege to drive back. Please stay safe and help us achieve the goal of zero deaths on our roads.