The recently concluded Minnesota legislative session has given its approval to the state’s comprehensive omnibus transportation bill, which includes the Safe Roads Act. This legislation marks a significant step towards prioritizing and enhancing road safety measures throughout the state.
Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) contacted Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council, to get his perspective on the funding and the potential benefits it would bring to local communities such as Eden Prairie.
Aasen described several components of the bill as “game changers,” highlighting substantial long-term investments in transportation and the establishment of new ongoing funding. The provisions of the Safe Road Zones introduce a streamlined process and funding for local elected officials, safety advocates, and roadway leaders to identify and address problematic roadways, with minimal bureaucratic requirements.
The bill also fixes a loophole or confusion in the hands-free law that prevented enforcement of the statute in some cases. It now clearly defines that “hands-free” means the phone can’t be in your hand or hands.
Benefits for Eden Prairie
EPLN had earlier met with Eden Prairie Police Chief Sackett to discuss the Safe Road Zones program. The chief has been monitoring the progress of the bill in the Legislature.
Sackett mentioned an issue with recruiting new officers, highlighting a challenge faced by the department.
In a May 18, 2021, story in EPLN, former Eden Prairie Police Chief Greg Weber expressed a strong desire to hire “young people who represent diverse communities who might be considering a career in (the) police.”
There is a positive development as the Eden Prairie Police Department now has the opportunity to access grant funding to attract new recruits and support traffic safety training for police officers. This funding would help alleviate the costs associated with officer recruitment.
Additional funding is available to enhance the safety of work zones and conduct studies on the use of speed cameras in work zones and other high-risk areas.
Many traffic citations are either written down, negotiated down, or simply dismissed, rendering them ineffective as deterrents. To address this issue, funding has been allocated for Traffic Citation Disposition Analysis, which aims to assess the outcome of traffic citations from the initial traffic stop to the final judicial determination.
The legislation acknowledges the increasing number of impaired driving crashes and anticipates a further rise due to the legalization of various forms of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol cannabinoid) in cannabis. To tackle this issue, the new legislation establishes grants for communities to enhance their safe ride and sober cab programs.
Addressing a concerning trend, it has been observed that two out of three crashes occur in the metro, with three out of four deaths occurring in Greater Minnesota. To enhance the safety of high-risk rural roads, funds have been allocated to target hazardous intersections and roadways.
A Speed Safety Camera Study in the legislation requires the Commissioners of DPS and DOT to complete an assessment of the legal and functional issues related to implementing automated enforcement to supplement existing laws.
To supplement existing laws, a Speed Safety Camera Study has been mandated by the legislation, which tasks the commissioners of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) with conducting a thorough assessment of the legal and functional issues associated with implementing automated enforcement.
A new Traffic Safety Advisory Council is being constituted formalizing the 20-year-old Toward Zero Deaths partnership. For the first time, it will provide state match dollars to the federal funds used to improve Minnesota’s roadway safety over the past two decades.
An annual report by the Commissioner of Public Safety was created with the advice of the Traffic Safety Advisory Council, identifying the most dangerous roads and intersections with actions and resources needed to fix the issues.
Assen noted this kind of work is already being talked about as a national model. He believes Minnesota will lead the way in traffic safety.
Editor’s note: Vijay Dixit is the Chairman of Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation, a 501-c-3 nonprofit advocating distraction-free driving. He is also a board member of Eden Prairie Local News and a member of the EPLN Development Committee and Journalism team.
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