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Federal grants aim at southeastern MN traffic safety

Published 10:37am Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mower and surrounding counties just got a boost in continuing efforts to eliminate deaths on Minnesota roads.

The Department of Public Safety will award new federal grants totaling $678,000 for area partners to support overtime Toward Zero Deaths traffic safety enforcement and educational efforts through Sept. 2014.

Local counties sharing in the grants, among Mower, could include Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha and Winona.

Austin Police Capt. Dave McKichan attended the announcement in Rochester on Tuesday, where DPS Commissioner Mona Dohman spoke about the grants. McKichan organizes local TZD efforts.

“I think it’s extremely positive for us,” McKichan said. “It just allows us to continue our TZD programs.”

During TZD programs, such as Drive Sober or Get Pulled over, and Click it or Ticket, deputies and police officers work many overtime hours focusing specifically on traffic violations. Each year, between the Mower County Sheriff’s Office and Austin Police Department, authorities work about 480 hours of overtime, made possible by grants. Tuesday’s announcement will solidify those efforts, if not increase them for local counties. McKichan has repeatedly said the efforts aren’t about issuing tickets, but to reduce the traffic deaths and the life-changing effects on families.

“We lose more people to violent automobile accidents, especially young people, than we do to violent crimes,” McKichan said. “It’s not even close in the numbers.”

From 2008 through 2012 in only Mower County, there were 2,399 crashes and 17 deaths. Six of the traffic deaths were alcohol related.

In the past 10 years, regional traffic deaths have fallen, McKichan notes, and DPS numbers show it. From 2003–2007, 342 people lost their lives in traffic crashes on southeastern Minnesota roads, compared to 248 deaths from 2008–2012 — a 27 percent decline. Yet the trend has nearly fallen flat. In 2010, there were 43 southeastern Minnesota traffic crashes, compared with 41 in 2011 and 39 in 2012.

And statewide, the number went the wrong way. There were more deaths on Minnesota roads in 2012 than 2011, and the DPS reports 2013 traffic death totals will be similar.

“Investing resources to advance traffic safety enforcement and education efforts throughout the state has always been important, but it’s even more vital now,” Dohman said. “More people died on Minnesota roads in 2012 than the year before and, unfortunately, we are on pace to match that number in 2013. Our local partners are a critical part of the efforts to reverse this trend and make our roads safer.”

Statewide, the federal grants for TZD total $8.5 million. In the past decade, 4,835 people have died on Minnesota roads.

Firefighters also get boost

Cops aren’t the only ones getting funding to make Minnesota safer.

Minnesota fire departments will again receive funding to help keep firefighters’ skills sharp.

The Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education recently announced it will provide Minnesota’s 784 fire departments more than $1.6 million — $80 per firefighter — for training classes.

“These grants benefit the safety of all Minnesotans,” said Bruce West, MBFTE executive director. “Assuring annual firefighter training is good for departments and their communities. Skill updating makes firefighters better responders and also keeps them safer.”

The amount of money departments receive per firefighter depends on funding allocated to the MBFTE by Minnesota’s Fire Safety Account. The Fire Safety Account was created in 2006 by the Minnesota Legislature. It is funded by a fire-safety surcharge on all homeowner and certain commercial insurance policies. The Fire Safety Advisory Committee makes recommendations to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner on use of the funding.

This is the fourth year the MBFTE has provided firefighter training dollars. The allotment process helps eliminate the training budget disparity between larger, better-funded departments and those in cities and towns with smaller budgets.

In addition to boosting department training budgets, the MBFTE will fund more than $1.4 million for live-burn, hazardous materials operations and other training courses.

Southeastern Minnesota by the numbers:

Annual traffic deaths last 10 years (590 total):

2003 — 87; 2004 — 70; 2005 — 63; 
2006 — 69; 2007 — 53; 2008 — 68; 2009 — 57; 2010 — 43; 2011 — 41; 2012 — 39.

• During the past decade, 48.5 percent of the 480 motor vehicle occupants killed were unbelted, which is in line with the state’s unbelted death rate of 47.8 percent.

• Drunken driving crashes resulted in 142 deaths in the past decade, representing 24 percent of the region’s total deaths, lower than the state’s rate of 29.4 percent.

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