Mike Hanson spent 32 years with the State Patrol and was edging closer to the mandatory retirement age of 60 when he saw an opportunity to continue his career helping to keep Minnesota roads safe.
So when Donna Berger recently retired as director of the Office of Traffic Safety for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Hanson made his move. This week, the department announced he would be its new director.
“I was not ready for retirement,” Hanson said in an interview this week. “I didn’t have to give up something I am so passionate about and believe so much in.”
Hanson, 54, will be the face of the department that designs and implements public education and traffic law enforcement programs with the goal of reducing crashes, deaths and injuries on Minnesota roads.
Hanson grew up in Hibbing and Minnetonka and graduated from Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School. He earned a degree from Alexandria Technical College in 1985 and immediately joined the State Patrol. He started as a trooper, rose to the rank of captain and ended his career a commander of the West Metro District.
Minnesota is a leader in the field of traffic safety, and Hanson said that campaigns and programs to address the four leading causes of fatal crashes — drunken and distracted driving, speeding and motorists who don’t wear seat belts — are working. The state is bucking the national trend that in 2015 and 2016 saw the steepest two-year increase in motor vehicle deaths since 1964, according to the National Safety Council.
In contrast, Minnesota has seen a decrease. As of Friday, 333 people had died on state roads compared with 378 at this time last year, the Office of Traffic Safety said.
But there is work to be done, especially in the areas of speeding and distracted driving, Hanson said.
“We need to find the next set of strategies to make sure we continue this downward trend in motor vehicle fatalities,” Hanson said. “Too many people are doing things behind the wheel they should not be doing while driving. I went to a lot of front steps in the middle of the night. If I can do something to prevent any of that from ever happening, I absolutely will do it.”
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768