The Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS) has launched a new local partnership with Isanti County to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries. Congressman James Oberstar, who has been a key leader in efforts to improve safety in the area and also initiated CERS in the federal surface transportation law in 2005, was on hand for the launch. CERS Research Director Tom Horan, demonstrated Safe Road Maps/Minnesota, a new feature of the successful web mapping tool that has drawn enormous national interest.
The partnership is the first of its kind and represents a new approach to bringing the policy, technical and outreach expertise of the University of Minnesota to support state and local government in tackling high fatality rates in rural areas. Road fatalities remain high in the U.S. with over 42,000 deaths a year, with a disproportionate share, about twice the urban rate, occurring in rural areas. Isanti County has a Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) program that engages local leaders and institutions in developing and carrying out strategies to reduce road fatalities.
Of particular note is the work of Judge James Dehn, who has taken on the problem of driving under the influence of alcohol by working with bars to tackle the problem of DUIs with a Safe Cab program. The Safe Cab program is a collaboration of bar owners and managers, law enforcement, the local taxi company, sponsors and liquor businesses to provide free rides home or at significantly reduced cost for patrons at participating bars. The program is funded privately by the bars and liquor establishments, sponsors and donations. According to Judge James Dehn of the 10th District Court, the number of DUI cases, tracked in his courtroom from January 1, 2008 through July 30, 2008 is down by 42 percent compared to the same period in 2007.