NEW ULM - Brown County law enforcement, public health and highway department employees discussed safety projects and related issues Tuesday at a "Toward Zero Deaths" (TZD) meeting at the Brown County License Bureau.
The TZD program was created about 10 years ago to integrate education, engineering, enforcement and emergency medical and trauma services to reduce traffic deaths and severe injuries.
Lack of seat belt use as well as impaired, speeding, aggressive and inattentive driving are the leading causes of deaths and severe injuries in south central Minnesota, according to 2007-2011 county statistics. The leading crash types are running off the road and intersection mishaps.
Amy Roggenbuck, TZD Regional Coordinator, said seat belt use is up in the last 18 months, but at a slightly higher level in metro than rural areas. Seat belt use in south central Minnesota was listed at 84.7 percent last year.
"Many people in accidents while not wearing seat belts have serious injuries that affect them for the rest of their lives. They're often ejected from vehicles," Roggenbuck said. "We've come a long way with inattentive driving, although it's tough to enforce. I hardly ever see people driving without phones in their ears. Hands-free phones are better, but not a lot better (than conventional phones)."
She said programs like Ignition Interlock make it tougher for drunk drivers to re-offend.
"We still don't have legislative support for driving without talking on phones," Brown County Commissioner Dick Seeboth said.
Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety TZD Law Enforcement Liaison and retired State Trooper Scott McConkey said driving now involves multi-tasking.
"First it was the radio. Now it's lots of electronics. There are lots of distractions," McConkey said.
Roggenbuck said many people are forced by their jobs to multi-task.
Comfrey Police Chief Jim Meyer, who also serves on the Comfrey School Board, voiced displeasure with lack of a Social Host Ordinance in (rural parts of) Brown County.
"We notice many kids not in town on weekends," Sleepy Eye Police Chief John Schueller said.
Seeboth said he didn't think it was impossible for the Brown County commissioners to pass the ordinance.
"There was a general concern about personal freedom. Township people were very negative about it," Seeboth said.
New Ulm Police Chief Myron Wieland said he noticed the public using tools like "sober" cabs and designated drivers in recent years a significant New Ulm events like Bockfest, New Year's Eve and Bavarian Blast.
McConkey said he'd like to see social host ordinances become a state law instead of allowing people to "shop" where to do certain behaviors.
Roggenbuck said there are existing programs that train people not to over serve alcohol.
Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz said lack of a social host ordinance can lead to ills other than alcoholism including irresponsible sexual behavior and robberies.
Brown County Highway Engineer Wayne Stevens said the county invests about $75,000 a year to re-stripe roads including fog lines on all paved roads and is adding rumble strips on many paved roads.
"Rural street lights have been suggested (as additional safety features)," Stevens said.
Brown County intersections listed with the highest risk were CSAH 13 and Garden Street in New Ulm, CSAH 11 and U.S. 14 and CSAH 17 and State Highway 258.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).