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Directions in Highway Safety, Spring 2007 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Spring 2007 | Vol. 10 | No. 1

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Moving the Needle in Minnesota

By Kathryn J.R. Swanson
Director, Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety
Past Chairman, GHSA

In 2006, Minnesota suffered 492 traffic deaths-67 fewer than the previous year and a continuation of a three-year decline in roadway fatalities. Since 2003 (with 655 fatalities), the number of deaths has dropped nearly 25 percent. Our fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is under 0.9-one of the lowest in the nation.

We are encouraged yet certain the progress is not due to luck. In 2001, the Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) committee proposed these goals: fewer than 500 traffic deaths and a fatality rate per 100 million VMT of 1.0 by 2008. Most colleagues thought the goals ridiculous.

Minnisota SHSO LogoWe met and blew through the goals early. Our fatality rate in 2005 was 1.0, and in 2006, we had fewer than 500 fatalities. We're delighted and proud. Let me share some of the programs from the past three years that contributed to our success.

We mobilized DWI enforcement and collared a record number of impaired drivers in 2006 (more than 42,000, up more than 13 percent). We focused on the 13 counties with the highest number of alcohol-related fatalities and serious injuries.

We sponsored HEAT, a speed enforcement project that stopped 88,000 vehicles and issued 34,000 citations for illegal speed. High-end travel speeds dropped significantly in the Twin Cities and in the state.

Across the state, low-cost engineering strategies were identified and deployed. MnDOT's Central Safety Fund supported installation of cable median barriers and county-based, low-cost projects.

The reach and impact of public information programs were strengthened by NHTSA media campaigns and collaborations forged with the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Wild, Anheuser-Busch, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, CarSoup.com, and others.

When fully implemented in 2009, it is estimated the statewide trauma care system could contribute a 9 percent reduction in traffic deaths.

Each of these programs, and many in the background, contributed to the drop in fatalities. Each is vital, but their vitality is enhanced by the way they were leveraged against each other, developed in collaboration with new partners, and-through those discussions-strengthened and broadened in ways not imagined five years ago.

While proud, we're acutely conscious of the work that remains.

As we set goals for 2010 and beyond, it is critical we maintain commitment to TZD. "Fewer than 400" ought to be our next goal, and when that is achieved, we need to continue to aggressively reduce the number of lives lost each year. We will have to try new programs and implement new policies.

Here are my observations about a few of the driver behavior issues we'll have to address in the coming years:

Continued progress is not guaranteed. If we do nothing new, more drivers, more vehicles and more travel will push up the number of deaths. The challenge will be to remember what works, direct resources where they make a difference and use the knowledge gained in the past to craft the vision for the future. Anything less will prevent us from moving Toward Zero Deaths.