TZD Honored; Local Judge Leads Efforts
The new year started with a double-fatal crash in Pine City in which the driver of one of the vehicles had been drinking. The tragedy points to the continued need for efforts to keep drunk drivers off the road. One local program was recently honored for its work to make sure a similar incident doesn’t happen in the future.
Minnesota’s Toward Zero Deaths Program was one of 11 projects from eight countries honored this week by the International Road Federation for contributions to excellence in the road industry. Minnesota’s TZD program received the federation’s 2009 Global Road Achievement Award for safety.
Isanti County Judge James Dean has been instrumental in starting local TZD efforts including the SAFE Cab program. He says it is rewarding to see these programs receive such a positive response.
Toward Zero Deaths launched in Minnesota in 2002.
The International Road Federation award comes based on several achievements from the Minnesota program. Toward Zero Deaths in Minnesota reached a goal of fewer than 500 fatalities two years sooner than expected and achieved a 45-percent reduction in serious injury crashes since 2001 (from 2,274 to 1,248).
Judge Dehn says the efforts being made through TZD are showing both immediate and sustained positive results.
In 2009, Dehn received the first Judicial/Court System Star Award from the Minnesota Towards Zero Death program for his work with programs like SAFE Cab.
Since its inception in Isanti County in 2005, Chisago and Pine Counties have adopted the SAFE Cab program and Dehn says work is now being done to bring it to Kanabec and Wright counties. He says, ultimately, he would like to see SAFE Cab available in all rural counties across Minnesota.
Even with programs like Toward Zero Deaths, drunk driving continues to damage lives and communities.
On New Year’s Day, Michael and Robin Moris of Pine City were killed when their car was hit head-on on Highway 70 by a truck driven by Scott Heckel, 44, of Pine City. The State Patrol reports alcohol was detected in Heckel’s system at the time of the crash.
Dehn is working on a new program that he believes can help keep those who have been drinking from getting behind the wheel and causing another tragedy like the one on Highway 70.
Dehn plans to implement the program by reducing fines for DWI’s if offenders purchase the portable breathalyzer. He adds, the effort is targeted mostly towards first time offenders.
The goal, says Dehn, is to start the portable breathalyzer sentencing within the next month, but he encourages all people to carry the device as a preventative measure, not just offenders.
Judge Dehn says he plans on purchasing a portable breathalyzer for himself and his children.