Something is amiss on streets and highways in Minnesota.
The state Office of Traffic Safety is urging motorists to slow down as Minnesota edges toward a recent high of traffic deaths. To date, nearly 400 have died on Minnesota roads and highways, setting a pace to be the deadliest year since 2007. Meanwhile, troopers and others in law enforcement are seeing an increase in all sorts of risky driving behaviors.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety last month declared Minnesota’s rising fatality count an “ongoing crisis.”
“If 321 traffic deaths by September sounds high, it is,” the DPS wrote on its blog. “It's a 25% increase over deaths this time last year and a 30% increase over this time in 2019. People are dying on Minnesota roads in record numbers, and we're doing everything we can to stop it. But we can't do it without your help.”
Since that post, another 70 people have died on Minnesota’s roads. Speed is the leading factor.
In response, the Minnesota DPS, Minnesota Safety Council, AAA and other groups recently said they plan to take an education campaign to employers around the state to remind motorists about safe driving habits.
Why employers? They say employers have a broad reach and are trusted. So employers are being asked to use typical means of company communication – emails, newsletters, posters and the like – to educate employees about the dangers of speeding.
And here’s a twist: For some reason, Minnesota drivers are practicing an array of risky behaviors at greater rates than in recent years. Among them are driving without a seatbelt, driving while under the influence and driving while distracted.
In a recent report by the Star Tribune, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said “troopers have never seen driving behavior this poor.”
In the same report, Langer said he assumed the pandemic would result in a drop in traffic deaths, since fewer people have been on the roads. Instead, law enforcement agencies have seen increases in crashes and risky driving. Apparently, it’s a nationwide trend.
We suggest employers take the advice of the Department of Public Safety and remind workers of the perils of risky road behaviors.
As Langer said in a recent Forum News Service report: “It's simple: Drive the speed limit, pay attention, don't drink and drive, and wear your seatbelt every single time you get in the vehicle. Those four simple things are all that we need to do in order to drastically reduce and, in fact, almost eliminate traffic crashes on our roads, especially fatal ones."
But there’s only so much that can be accomplished through a boss’s reminder. If the trend continues, Minnesota – and other states – must strongly consider higher fines for the risky behaviors that endanger us all.
If risky drivers won’t heed reminders, public service announcements and the simply grisly statistics, hitting them in their pocketbook remains the best option.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.