Safe Community Coalition receives new state grant
WILLMAR -- Efforts by the Kandiyohi County Safe Community Coalition to reduce the highway death rate have received a fresh boost in the form of a one-year, $23,000 state grant.
WILLMAR - Efforts by the Kandiyohi County Safe Community Coalition to reduce the highway death rate have received a fresh boost in the form of a one-year, $23,000 state grant.
The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners formally executed the grant agreement Tuesday, which will continue the coalition’s work with Minnesota’s Toward Zero Deaths initiative.
The county’s most recent fatal crash, which happened Saturday night at the junction of U.S. Highway 12 and a county road west of Pennock, underscores the need for ongoing public education about highway safety, Sheriff Dan Hartog said.
Kandiyohi County has had eight traffic fatalities so far this year, he said. Statewide, highway deaths stand at 249, compared to 223 at the same time a year ago.
Those numbers are more than statistics, Hartog said. “That’s somebody’s husband, wife, child. That’s a person that died because of a motor vehicle crash.”
Toward Zero Deaths takes a comprehensive approach that includes traffic enforcement, engineering and the emergency medical response to crashes. But its main focus is on education about the most preventable causes of highway deaths - speeding, for example, or drinking and driving.
Driver inattention contributes to many crashes and is becoming a serious problem, Hartog said. “That’s one of the big things.”
The Safe Community Coalition conducts regular public awareness campaigns that target driver-related unsafe behavior, often combining education with enforcement, said coordinator Stephanie Felt.
The group frequently takes an innovative approach. A new project this past year paired the coalition with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the city of Willmar and Central Community Transportation to put law enforcement officers into higher vehicles, giving them a better view of what drivers were doing behind the wheel and whether someone was texting.
“We told the community this was what we were going to do and we did it. It worked well,” Felt said.
The coalition also has had considerable success with its Joyride program, a partnership with local bars to provide low-cost bus rides home for patrons. Ridership has risen from 248 the first year to 262 so far this year.
With the start of school this fall, the group is working once again with high school and college partners to promote education among young adults, for whom highway crashes are the leading cause of death.
This age group is where the Safe Community Coalition focuses much of its efforts, Felt said. “We’re trying not to be complacent.”
Hartog acknowledged that “it does get frustrating” when fatalities keep occurring, especially at the pace seen in Minnesota this year.
“When you’re driving, drive the car. … There’s a lot of things that happen fast on the road just because of your speed,” he said.