2012 saw increase in traffic deaths
WORTHINGTON -- A recent report released by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety found Minnesota traffic deaths up in 2012 by seven percent, the first such increase in six years.
In a continued effort to decrease the number of traffic fatalities and to reach the state's Towards Zero Deaths goal, the Worthington Police Department (WPD) will be participating in a statewide "speed wave" July 6-21 through a Towards Zero Deaths grant.
Formerly known as the Safe and Sober Grant, the TZD grant provides funds for agencies to have additional officers working to reduce the amount of speeding, seat-belt violations and DWIs. In addition to the state patrol, 55 law enforcement grants involving more than 250 agencies were awarded in 2013.
The grant program has identified four major focus areas to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities -- education, emergency medical and trauma services, enforcement and engineering.
"All four add to bringing traffic deaths down," Worthington Officer Joshua McCuen said.
To apply for the grant, the WPD partnered with nine other law enforcement agencies in southwest Minnesota, including sheriff's offices in Nobles, Jackson, Lyon, Cottonwood, Redwood, Rock and Murray counties, as well as the Marshall, Redwood Falls and Mountain Lake police departments.
"It makes it easier because I can coordinate with all my agencies, and I can cover a broader area without having to go through so many hoops and contacting different people," McCuen explained.
With the TZD grant, the WPD and partnering agencies will be able to increase their traffic control efforts.
"TZD focuses on speed, seat belt and DWI enforcement -- those are the three main reasons for traffic deaths, so that's what they focus on," McCuen said.
During the July speed wave, the department will use the grant funds to pay for overtime hours. Statewide, there will be between 1,400 and 1,900 extra enforcement hours.
"It gives us overtime hours to put more deputies and patrol officers on the road," McCuen explained. "Enforcing -- not just speed, though obviously that's the focus -- but seat belts and everything else you do during traffic control."
Currently, TZD grant recipients are asked to have two people working on dedicated TZD tasks 50 percent of the time.
"Starting Oct. 1, they want two people working 100 percent of the time," McCuen said.
In the future, McCuen said the TZD program will be moving towards higher visibility.
"All of their interest is in pre-enforcement," McCuen said. "We'll be wearing vests that say 'speed enforcement,' and we'll have to put signs out like those big orange road construction signs that say 'speed enforcement.' They want people to know what we're doing."
Increasing visibility and accident prevention is the goal of the TZD grant and the department efforts.
"None of us want to go to an accident," McCuen said. "We don't look forward to doing that, and we'd rather prevent them than react to them."
In addition to the July speed wave, local police agencies will also participate in the Ted Foss Move Over Day on Aug. 31 and in the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over DWI Crackdown from Aug. 16 through Sept. 2.
According to the crash data report issued by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety in June, traffic deaths rose from 368 in 2011 to 395 in 2012. This is the first time the number of traffic deaths has increased since 2007.
Nevertheless, the 2012 numbers still represent a 40 percent decrease in deaths from a decade ago and the second lowest annual death figure since 1944, when 356 people were killed).
The 2012 statistics include 116 unbelted motorist deaths, 104 drunk-driving crash victims and 55 motorcyclist deaths.
Nobles County reported the highest number of fatalities in the region, with six fatal crashes and seven deaths in 2012 -- up from three deaths in 2011. Behind Nobles County was Rock County with four fatal crashes. Murray, Pipestone, Cottonwood and Jackson counties each reported two fatal crashes in 2012.
No fatal crashes happened within any of the local municipalities with populations greater than 2,500, including Jackson, Luverne, Pipestone, Windom or Worthington.
In 2012, driver inattention or distraction was the No. 1 contributing factor in crashes with 51 crashes resulting in deaths -- down from 72 in 2011. Illegal or unsafe speeds were also a common contributing factor and resulted in 74 deaths, down from 83 in 2011.
The report also found seat belt use to be at 94 percent, a record high and a decade ago, there were 257 unbelted traffic deaths compared to 116 in 2012.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.