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The rest of the story

Isn't it interesting how a set of statistics can set your mind at ease - or totally derail it. Most of us seem to put a lot of stock in things such as political polls, research studies and yes, statistics. But the truth of the matter is, any one ...

Isn't it interesting how a set of statistics can set your mind at ease - or totally derail it. Most of us seem to put a lot of stock in things such as political polls, research studies and yes, statistics. But the truth of the matter is, any one of those things can be used to the advantage - or disadvantage - of whoever is trying to prove a particular point.

It is up to the average consumer to make sure he or she has "the rest of the story" before drawing any conclusions.

For example, we learned this week from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) that to date in 2011, there have been 202 traffic deaths in the state compared to 247 at this time in 2010. That's good news.

There were 131 alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2010, the fewest on record and down 21 percent from five years ago. That's even better news.

Taken at face value, one could logically deduce that motorists are slowing down , cutting back on drinking and driving, and the state's highways are becoming a safer place to drive.

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That's where the OTS reveals "the rest of the story."

In the last five years (2006-2010), a grand total of 791 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in the state - reflecting the fact that impaired driving continues to be a factor annually in fully one-third of the state's road fatalities. Despite the news that the overall numbers are going down, the fact that impaired driving is still a major cause for concern is undeniable. In fact, one in seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI on record.

Read on.

In 2010, DWIs were a factor in fully 258 out of 280 crashes in Carlton County. Three deaths resulted from those crashes, and all three were from alcohol-related crashes. There was one occupant death among those crashes, and it, too, occurred in an alcohol-related crash.

There is simply no room to rest on our laurels just because the statewide numbers have begun to show a decline.

To that end, the state's core traffic safety initiative, "Toward Zero Deaths," has called for enhanced DWI patrols to hit the roads in Minnesota from now through Sept. 5 (Labor Day) as part of the nation's biggest DWI enforcement effort of the year. The State Patrol is partnering with nearly 400 city and county agencies to prevent alcohol-related tragedies, joining 10,000 participating agencies nationwide.

That's a great start toward keeping the state's highways safer over a traditionally deadly holiday weekend.

But there's more. The "Toward Zero Deaths" (TZD) initiative, of which Carlton County law enforcement agencies are a part, recognizes that after the extra-enforcement campaign is over, the problem of alcohol-related crashes isn't just going to go away. That's why education is also a big part of the initiative, letting people know the repercussions of a DWI offense and how it can affect people's lives.

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A primary vision of the TZD program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior.

That's a statistic we can all live with.

Wendy Johnson 

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