by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Traffic fatalities in Minnesota have been reduced to their lowest levels since 1944, using an initiative called “Toward Zero Deaths.”
The program used to be called “Safe and Sober,” but the name change was made about 10 years ago in order to more thoroughly encompass the road safety effort, said Frank Scherf, the northeast Minnesota law enforcement liaison for the Department of Public Safety.
Scherf and Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel spoke to the County Board recently about the statewide impact the Toward Zero Deaths program has had on traffic deaths.
Minnesota road deaths dropped for the fourth consecutive year in 2011. The 368 deaths represent a 44 percent decrease in annual fatalities from a decade ago. The crash data includes 120 unbelted motorists and 111 alcohol-impaired crash victims.
“Since 1944, there have been only two years when deaths have been below 400 — in 2011 and 2012,” said Wetzel.
Traffic deaths in 2012 were 380.
Improvements have been made in vehicle safety and road safety in the decades since World War II, all of which contribute to the reduction of traffic deaths.
“Car design factors in too,” Wetzel said. “There are better seat belts now and air bags. Highway design has also improved. The program is not just about law enforcement; it includes educational initiatives too.”
Toward Zero Deaths pinpoints four main areas in its educational initiatives: seat belts, alcohol impairment, distracted driving and speed.
Morrison County was recognized for its successful work on the Toward Zero Deaths program with the awarding of two light bars for its squad cars, presented by Scherf.
“The Toward Zero Deaths program provides funding for us to send guys out to target these things instead of our guys trying to do these things plus all their other duties,” said Wetzel.
Wetzel thanked Deputy Doug Rekstad, who he said administers the grant on a daily basis and whose work is invaluable.
“A major component of providing for the health, safety and welfare of Morrison County citizens is to ensure safe roads, the Towards Zero Death effort helps do this,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.