TZD goal is zero traffic fatalities

In 2003, more than than 650 people died in motor vehicle crashes in Minnesota, and fatalities were projected to increase every year well into the next decade. That sobering forecast led to the creation of Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) — a traffic safety program whose ultimate goal is to reduce the number of serious injuries and deaths on Minnesota roads to zero.

In the 11 years since then, traffic fatalities have dropped more than 40 percent, and the program has set a new goal of reducing traffic-related deaths to 300 or fewer by 2020.

Kristine Hernandez, statewide Toward Zero Deaths program coordinator, credits TZD's success to a data-driven, multidisciplinary approach that targets areas for improvement and then works to change them through integrated application of the "four E's" — education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency medical and trauma services. Each is important, but a combination of strategies is needed to effect real change, she says.

"We've found that education and enforcement together are the best practice we know that works," Hernandez explains. "For instance, teens are over-represented in the data, and we know they tend to make risky choices, so we try to educate them but also make sure they comply with the law."

The data help decide which places to target, too. "We look at the numbers and go where the data are telling us to go. As an example, Olmsted County is in the top 25 for impaired drivers, so we direct additional DWI awareness and enforcement efforts there, as well as to the other 24 Minnesota counties that have a high rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths," Hernandez says.

Using all the E's

TZD built on the success of earlier traffic safety programs by encouraging interagency cooperation and coordination between state agencies and local organizations. "Back then, everyone was working, but not together," Hernandez explains. "We literally worked in the same building, but didn't interact. So we spent a lot of time with the stakeholders, getting them to understand the value of using all the E's and getting everybody to the table to work through these issues. We went region by region, slowly adding regional coordinators to bring groups together and build coalitions. At the last TZD state conference, we had 920 people."

Last to come onboard were emergency medical services (EMS) because, Hernandez says, "we couldn't figure out how to engage them." But EMS now plays a major role in the effort to reduce highway fatalities by providing rapid, efficient and coordinated emergency response within a state trauma system that has designated trauma centers and specific criteria for treating and transporting seriously injured people.

TZD helped implement auto-launch of EMS helicopters and negotiated reciprocity agreements that allow dispatchers to call ambulances closest to the crash, regardless of jurisdiction. "We expedited emergency efforts because we came together," Hernandez says.

The 5th E

The four E's are a strong foundation, but they can only go so far, and Hernandez says the last step is involving the 5th E — everyone else — to help change the culture of traffic safety. "We're a smoke-free state, but it took all the players to accomplish that. We had to have a grass roots and a top roots effort, so cities and counties began passing smoking bans, then the legislature finally passed a law banning smoking, too. We did the same thing with seat belts and recycling."

"Even impaired driving, which is the leading cause of highway deaths, has been driven down considerably. We want to do the same thing with speeding and distracted driving. We can put up chevrons and signage and blinking lights, but ultimately it's the driver's decision to speed or drive impaired or distracted, and that's what we need to change," she says. "Our mission is to create a culture where roadway fatalities and serious injuries are no longer acceptable."