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Ask A Trooper: Why are fatality rates still so high?

Question: I don’t want to sound like a “wise guy,” but I really am just curious, so I need to ask you this: With all the enforcement projects going on, why are we still seeing so many fatal crashes being reported? I thought the enforcement projects helped with that?

Answer: You’re right: We have had a deadly 2013 on our roads — deaths are up slightly compared to 2012. This demonstrates how dangerous our roads can turn when unsafe decisions are made behind the wheel.

Looking at the big picture, Minnesota is currently the second-safest state in the country based on our fatality rate per vehicle miles traveled.

In fact, road deaths are down 40 percent from a decade ago. There were 657 deaths in 2002 and just less than 400 in 2012. Of course, this progress is of little consolation to the families who have lost a loved one in a crash.

There are many factors for the reduction in deaths we’ve seen in recent years, and law enforcement activity has played a major role to encourage safer driver behavior.

That said, law enforcement efforts themselves aren’t the only solution. Preventing traffic deaths requires education campaigns, safer designed roads, efficient EMS trauma response, safer vehicles and important laws.

Most important, preventing traffic deaths is up to drivers — each of us — making safe, smart decisions. We have to take serious, personal responsibility behind the wheel for our actions and choices.

If everyone chose to not drink and drive, we could eliminate about a third of our alcohol-related fatalities right off the bat.

If drivers and passengers all chose to buckle up, we could eliminate all the fatalities involving unbuckled persons.

We could set a new state record low for fatalities just on those two choices alone. Other serious problems are inattentive driving, driving at unsafe speeds, failing to obey traffic control signals/signs and fatigued driving.

Everyone needs to do their part to make Minnesota even a safer place to drive.

— Sgt. Curt S. Mowers is with the Minnesota State Patrol