Toward Zero Deaths hits 20 years, celebration at Civic Center

Towards Zero Deaths Conference

The latest local, regional and national news events of the day are presented by the ABC 6 News Team, along with updated sports, weather and traffic.

(ABC 6 News) – Over 800 people gathered to discuss how to further decrease deaths on Minnesota roadways at the Towards Zero Deaths conference at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester.

The conference invited guests spanning from law enforcement and EMS, to MNDOT and road engineers

Derek Leuer, the Traffic Safety Engineer at the Office of Traffic Engineering, shared some of his thoughts: “This conference is all about building those relationships and partnerships and disseminating all the info we have figured out in the last year or so.”

A big topic this year? The legalization of cannabis and increased accessibility of drugs.

Mike Hanson serves as the director of the Office of Traffic Safety for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He has a counter to cannabis, prescriptions, and illegal drugs among other impairments: the Drug Recognition Evaluator Program.

According to Hanson the program includes “highly trained officers all across the state. We currently have 300 of them, and are training more every year.”

Although impairment factors into deadly crashes, according to Hanson it is the second leading cause of death while driving on Minnesota roadways.

“Speed is the one thing that makes every bad decision worse.”

According to Leuer that may explain why you’ve seen an increase in roundabouts and J-Turns over the past 20 years.

“Roundabouts have been known to reduce fatal or seriously injured crashes, sometimes up to 90 percent versus the prior conditions that are out there,” he said.

That percentage is closer to 70% regarding J-turns. Both of these help regulated speed on roadways, allowing for less speed-related crashes. Overall, the number of traffic deaths is down nearly 50% since 2003, when the conference had its first year.

Due to cannabis being legalized in August 2023, there is not enough data yet to determine how much it will have an impact on traffic accidents and deaths. That information should become more available by next year.

Towards Zero Deaths Conference Day 2

The latest local, regional and national news events of the day are presented by the ABC 6 News Team, along with updated sports, weather and traffic.

The conference also granted 16 awards for accomplishments that improved safety. Those include:

• TZD Kathy Swanson Outstanding Service Award – Holly Kostrzewski, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety specialist and former northeast Minnesota TZD regional coordinator
• TZD Distinguished Public Leadership Award – Minnesota State Senators Jim Carlson and D. Scott Dibble; Minnesota State Reps. Frank Hornstein and Lucy Rehm, for their work to update Minnesota’s traffic safety laws
• TZD Media Award – Kyle Bradt, Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office media development specialist
• TZD Traffic Safety Innovation Award – Renville County Public Health, Renville County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Patrol, for creating a program to improve access to car seats in greater Minnesota
• TZD Judicial/Court System Award – Dakota County Attorney Kathy Keena
• TZD Emerging Leader Award, primary and secondary school category – Makena Prevost, Orono, for successfully proposing and advocating that state law be changed to allow Minnesota driver’s license records to include information that lets crash responders know that a person in the vehicle has someone dependent on them who might need extra care
• TZD Emerging Leader Award, post-secondary school category – Darren Tanubrata, Aarushi Vyas, and Elizabeth Wang, interns from the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation for research leading to statewide implementation of the Impact Teen Driver program
• Emergency Medical and Trauma Services TZD Star Award – Chris Ballard, former MDH trauma system coordinator, for his work to build Minnesota’s modern trauma system and creating an on-demand training for hospitals that increases the odds of survival for crash victims
• TZD Child Passenger Safety Star Award – Aimee Eggen, Norman-Mahnomen Public Health child passenger safety technician
• TZD Engineering Star Award – Lars Impola, acting traffic engineer, MnDOT Metro District
• Enforcement TZD Star Award – Officer Luke Nelson, Eagan Police Department
• Education TZD Star Award – K9 Deputy Luis Figueroa, Martin County Sheriff’s Office