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A deadly week on Minnesota roads

WORTHINGTON -- Since Aug. 1, 14 people have been killed on state roads, according to the Minnesota State Patrol (MSP).

Out of those 14 people, one of the deceased was from southwest Minnesota in Jackson County. One of the deaths occurred in Rock County. Several young children had to be airlifted to hospitals, several of the people who died were younger than age 21, and more than half of the people who were killed or critically injured were not wearing seatbelts.

According to Rock County Sheriff Even Verbrugge, distracted driving is second only to drunk driving when it comes to car wrecks.

"They aren't accidents, they are crashes," Verbrugge stated. "They could be prevented if people would slow down, pay attention and plan ahead."

Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials say last week, Aug. 1 through Aug. 7, was the third deadliest week of 2011 on Minnesota roads. Traffic deaths spiked in July, the deadliest month of the year so far at 43. To date, there have been almost 200 deaths on the roads in the state.

"This last week sadly highlighted how driver error leads to road tragedy," said MSP Lt. John Ebner. "It's not surprising to see an increase in deaths when seatbelts aren't worn, when drivers speed and they don't pay attention. Summertime can be deadly on the road, but it doesn't have to be if motorists make safe decisions."

During a statewide speed enforcement campaign in July, 21 motorists were ticketed for speeds in excess of 100 mph, and more than 70 cited for doing more than 90 mph.

"Many motorists fail to see the dangers in speeding and don't understand its deadly consequences," MSP Lt. Eric Roeske stated. "(These) campaigns focus on educating drivers that when their speed increases, so does their risk of crashing."

According to reports from the MSP, the distracted driver who blew a stop sign, got impatient and tried to pass or fell asleep at the wheel isn't always the person who dies when two vehicles collide. Passengers and other drivers obeying the laws are sometimes the ones who pay the price of a driver's inattentiveness.

"The last fatal we had (in Rock County) involved a driver who fell asleep," Verbrugge said. "It's an issue, and it's probably happened to all of us -- we nod off for a second and catch ourselves."

Drivers need to give their bodies rest, he stated.

Cross country excursions, late night commutes after a long day of work, hurried trips to jobs or appointments -- all can be hazardous if the driver isn't alert. When rain is falling, snow is blowing or weather is otherwise threatening, people tend to focus on driving.

On a clear, sunny day, attention wanders to the scenery, to a conversation going on in the backseat or to a cell phone or electronic device. When the pavement is dry and the sky clear, speeding doesn't seem very dangerous as when the roads are coated with ice and visibility is low.

"If you need to be somewhere by 8 a.m., leave at 7:30 a.m. instead giving yourself five minutes to drive 20 miles," Verbrugge advised. "Too many people have the 'It's not going to happen to me' attitude when it comes to crashes."

Even cautious drivers need to pay attention to their surroundings, be patient in high traffic situations and keep an eye on what other vehicles are doing. Just because their vehicle has the right-of-way is no guarantee that the driver coming straight at them is going to stop.

Verbrugge's best advice for staying safe is to always wear a seatbelt and insist that everyone in the vehicle buckle up also.

"Driving is a serious matter," Verbrugge warned. "Vehicles out there are more dangerous than a handgun.

"People need to stay focused, pay attention and know where they are going and what they are doing," he added.