August 8, 2013 | Volume 118, Issue No. 32

Pine County works 'Toward Zero Deaths'

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 75,954 crashes occurred in 2012, with 395 deaths resulting from those accidents. Of the 395 deaths, 131 were alcohol related and 116 were unbelted motor vehicle deaths. In 2012, 28,384 driving while intoxicated citations (DWIs) were issued.

Photo courtesy Pine County Sheriff\'s Department
Pictured is the car if Haylie Samuelson (of Pine City) after the fatal collision that took her life in 2012 that occured while she was responding to a text message.

The state has responded to these statistics by implementing Toward Zero Deaths (TZD). Its goal is just that, to strive toward zero deaths on Minnesota roads.

The organization’s mission is to create a culture through the four E’s — education, engineering, enforcement, and emergency medical and trauma services — for which traffic fatalities and serious injuries are no longer acceptable. Efforts are underway to implement the four E’s in Pine County.

The Pine County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) held a TZD meeting Tuesday, July 23. The meeting was attended by Holly Kostrzewski, northern regional TZD coordinator; Lt. Jason Hanson, Minnesota State Patrol; Todd Lindstrom from the Pine County Highway Department; and Sgt. Dan Kunz, Sgt. Robert Ouverson and Denise Baran, from the PCSO.

Kostrzewski addressed the group regarding the education component and stated their goal is to involve parents of new teen drivers in the driver’s education program so they understand the laws and type of training new drivers go through. Hanson stated that law enforcement has used the crash car, donated by the parents of Haylie Samuelson who was killed last year while she was responding to a text message, to educate students in St. Louis County regarding the dangers of inattentive driving, speeding and impaired driving. Hanson added that those schools had an estimated total attendance of more than 2,000 students.

Hanson also spoke about extra DWI enforcement in Pine County during the fair and the possibility of getting extra troopers to assist deputies during that time. There was also discussion regarding community events in Pine County such as Willow River Days, Quarry Days (Sandstone) and Rutabaga Days in Askov, and the extra enforcement possibly needed for the large number of people in attendance during these events.

On the educational end, Kunz stated, “Changing driver behavior is the focus of traffic safety education efforts. It is not enough for drivers to understand the ‘rules of the road’. Drivers must be motivated to change their driving habits.”

Ouverson added, “Education and enforcement efforts working together can be an effective strategy for improving roadway safety. For example, targeted enforcement in areas such as drunk driving and safety belt use can be coordinated with educational efforts such as public service announcements. Also, many educational efforts are led by public health educators who may integrate traffic safety into their work within their communities.”

Baran, PCSO office manager, raised the possibility of the highway department purchasing a trailer mounted with a speed monitoring device. Lindstrom stated that steps are being taken to have this type of equipment in Pine County. He added there are currently flashing LED stop signs in Pine City at Main Street South and 8th Avenue Southeast to help prevent people from going through the stop sign, and that these lights have helped manage traffic at that location.

County Engineer Mark LeBrun later added that on the engineering side, the county has done some projects in compliance with their county roadway safety plan, including wider pavement edge striping, wet-inlaid edge striping (striping with reflective inlaid glass), intersection lighting, improved signage, shoulder paving and guardrail installation throughout the county.

Local law enforcement officers are in agreement, stating they see a cross section of infractions such as impaired driving, speeding and distracted driving, but the two top reasons people get into accidents are speeding and impaired driving. This takes place in no specific demographic.

“It happens with both adults and youth,” stated Ouverson.

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