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State marks significant declines in traffic deaths

As nearly 600 traffic safety advocates and law enforcement convene in Duluth for the state's annual Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) traffic safety conference, state officials are highlighting the success of the TZD program while acknowledging traffic challenges ahead. Since 2003, the state's annual number of traffic deaths has declined 30 percent. In 2009, the lower death count trend continues -- to-date there are 337 traffic deaths compared to 352 at this time in 2008, which had the lowest annual fatality count since 1945.

State Public Safety, Transportation and Health officials attribute the decline in deaths to many factors, including important legislation such as the 0.08 alcohol concentration law and the primary seat belt law, as well as the economy which has resulted in motorists conserving fuel by driving at safer speeds.

State officials also say the decline in deaths reflects the success of TZD, the state's cornerstone traffic safety initiative. TZD employs a multidisciplinary approach to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities by focusing on the application of four strategic areas of traffic safety -- consistent education, enhanced enforcement, engineering improvements and efficient emergency medical and trauma response. The current TZD goal is 400 or fewer traffic deaths and 1,400 serious injuries by 2010.

Since TZD was established in 2003, traffic deaths have steadily decreased: 2003 -- 655 deaths;

2004 -- 567; 2005 -- 559; 2006 -- 494; 2007 -- 510; 2008 -- 455. Contributing to the drop in deaths are targeted enforcement efforts and an increase in seat belt use. TZD encourages local traffic safety community stakeholders such as law enforcement, engineers, and emergency medical services to partner with the state to tailor solutions specific to local traffic safety needs.

"Minnesota traffic advocates have become effective at advancing road safety by combining related disciplines in their regions to reduce crashes," says Cheri Marti, director of the DPS Office of Traffic Safety. "The state is a leader in this approach and it is working, especially when supported by critical legislation and safe driver behavior."

Many innovations have been made on the engineering front in recent years. MnDOT is also developing county road safety plans with partners to address specific local issues and road types.

"Engineers have made vast improvements in creating a safer roadway by installing cable median barriers, enhancing signing and providing more visible pavement markings to keep vehicles on the road," says Sue Groth, director of MnDOT Office Traffic, Safety and Technology. "These are important engineering components that go to support the TZD strategy."

Despite the drop in deaths, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death for Minnesotans age 2-34. In the three-year period 2006-2008, 1,459 people were killed on Minnesota roads at an estimated economic impact of more than $1.7 billion. Thousands more suffered serious, life-altering injuries.

"The key to preventing deaths and injuries comes down to motorists taking driving seriously and making smart, safe decisions such as buckling up, driving at safe speeds, paying attention and always having a plan for a sober ride to avoid driving impaired," says Marti.