Zero traffic deaths the goal for safety experts in DuluthThe goal of Minnesota’s “Toward Zero Deaths” program is simple. As long as there are traffic deaths, the state partnership will continue to look for ways to make road travel safer.
The goal of Minnesota’s “Toward Zero Deaths” program is simple.
As long as there are traffic deaths, the state partnership will continue to look for ways to make road travel safer, said Duane Hill, Minnesota Department of Transportation District 1 engineer.
“The main purpose is to help find ways that we can collaborate as a community of educators, engineers, emergency response personnel and enforcement to help reduce the number of serious injury crashes and fatal crashes,” he said.
More than 100 representatives gathered in Duluth last week to assess the first 10 years of the TZD program and seek direction for the future. The third annual regional meeting was held at the Inn on Lake Superior Wednesday.
Although a statewide meeting is held in the Twin Cities every year, the regional meeting has the benefit of bringing together representatives of just the eight counties of Northeastern Minnesota, organizers said. That allows for more specific discussion of regional statistics, issues and planning.
“What we’re able to do at a regional conference is look at data specific to Northeastern Minnesota and county-by-county,” Hill said. “We have representatives here from eight different counties and we’re able to help them understand what are the problems in their specific counties.”
At the conference, state officials, law enforcement officers, educators and emergency personnel received updates on statistics such as seatbelt use, distracted driving and impaired driving. At the end of the day, the participants took part in group activities to discuss strategies for the next 5 to 10 years of the TZD program.
For many, the highlight of the day was a personal impact statement read by a young man who was injured in an alcohol-related accident. Alex Balluff, 21, and his parents, Mike and Debbie, described to attendees Alex long road to recovery.
Balluff, of Oak Grove, Minn., was struck by a drunk driver while walking with friends on Rice Lake Road on Oct. 31, 2009. He suffered traumatic brain injuries and was given a 1 percent chance of living.
“The personal impact statement really helps energize us and remind us why we are trying to prevent crashes that cause serious injury or fatalities,” Hill said. “Injuries have a significant impact on family and friends and everyone. It’s really important for us to recognize that.”
Matt Berger teaches driver’s training courses at several area high schools. He was attending his first TZD workshop and said the personal impact statement resonated with him.
“Alex’s story is something I can take and put into the classroom,” Berger said. “He was only a few years older than most of the kids I teach, and there is a lot of human-interest value to his story.”
Berger, who has previously taught social studies classes in Wisconsin and Minnesota, said he has twice had students die in car crashes. In one case, a former student crashed as she was trying to adjust her iPod.
The other case was a January 2012 accident, in which 13-year-old Everett Bergren, one of Berger’s students at the time, was critically injured in a crash that also killed his grandmother, Paula Bergren. Everett died nearly a year later after a surgery related to the accident. The accident was caused by drunk driver Hawk Edwards, 19, who struck the Bergrens’ vehicle as they traveled on Woodland Avenue.
Berger said he taught seventh-grade geography to both Bergren and Edwards — Bergren in Proctor, and Edwards previously in Solon Springs, Wis.
“Think about the powerful impact that could have,” he said of the irony of the accident. “That situation was really hard on the school and Proctor.”