Brad Estochen speaking at podium

Brad Estochen

Minnesota developed the Strategic Highway Safety Plan a decade ago, as the nation set a goal of reducing roadway deaths to less than one person per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Last year, the nation still hadn’t reached this milestone (1.06 deaths occurred per 100 million miles), but Minnesota had lowered its fatality rate to 0.63 deaths (down from 1.48 deaths 20 years ago).

“When I look at what Minnesota has done over the last 15 years compared to other states, we’re one of the few states that has a pretty consistent downward trend [in fatal crashes],” said MnDOT state traffic engineer Brad Estochen, who gave an update on the highway safety plan during the first event in the Roadway Safety Institute's fall seminar series. “I think we’re doing some unique things here that have given us these results.” These steps, Estochen says, have included passing a primary offense seatbelt law (seatbelt usage is now above 90 percent), investing in strategic safety infrastructure such as high-tension cable median barriers and focused enforcement of DWI, speed, and seatbelt laws.

Speed enforcement signs in workzone area

Automated speed enforcement received significant attention in
Minnesota’s SHSP, but it is currently not deployed because of legal
challenges. RSI research is examining the issue.

To best understand the risk factors for fatal and serious injury crashes, the state combined real-life crash data with input from professionals in engineering, law enforcement, and emergency medical services, as well as everyday road users. The results showed that most crashes in the state involve multiple factors—such as road conditions, driver impairment, and driver age.

Estochen said this approach of analyzing data and gaining stakeholder perspectives provided new insights into the dynamic causes of fatal and serious injury crashes.

In conjunction with the Departments of Health and Public Safety, MnDOT created a highway safety plan aimed at both professional stakeholders and the community that identified critical strategies for reducing serious traffic incidents. It has been updated in 2007 and 2014.

Minnesota’s plan is informing the work of several RSI projects, including those examining policymaker support, or lack of, for safety countermeasures and stakeholder perspectives in deploying automated speed enforcement.

Beyond Minnesota, the Roadway Safety Institute has been working with the safety engineers in the other USDOT Region 5 states—Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana—to identify each state’s top safety needs, aligning with their Strategic Highway Safety Plans, to create a pooled fund (available on the FHWA website).

Overall, Estochen said one of the best ways to reduce crashes in the state is to promote a culture of traffic safety—something he hopes the highway safety plan contributes to.

“Creating a traffic safety culture has nothing to do with building bigger and better roads,” he said. “It really has to do with making us as a state, as a community, and as individuals responsible for our actions.”

This article was adapted from a story that first appeared on the Crossroads Minnesota Transportation Research Blog.

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