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DWI arrests up over the holidays, down for the year

Posted by: Tim Harlow Updated: January 7, 2015 - 11:16 AM

A woman with a .45 percent blood-alcohol concentration was arrested for drunken driving when police in Freeborn County found her passed out in her car with the engine running in the driveway of a state trooper.

The woman was one of 2,537 motorists arrested in Minnesota during a holiday DWI enforcement period that ran between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

Preliminary numbers from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety show that 84 more drivers arrested on Minnesota roads than during a similar campaign last year when law enforcement cited 2,453 drivers. But for the year, total number of DWI arrests during 2014 declined to 24,159 from the 25,719 reported in 2013 and 28,418 in 2012. It marked the eighth straight year that the number of DWI arrests declined.

Still, driving drunk is a problem on Minnesota roads.

"Drunk driving is a choice, a choice that can have life-altering consequences for you or other on the roads," said Donna Berger, director of the DPS' Office of Traffic Safety. "Even though we are encouraged by declining DWI numbers, one drunk driver is one too many."

In Minnesota, the legal BAC limit to operate a motor vehicle is .08 percent. The woman arrested in Freeborn County was more than five times above that. Statewide numbers show that 16 drivers had BAC levels at .30 percent or higher.

"Some might call it unlucky to pass out drunk in the driveway of a trooper, but this woman is very fortunate that she didn't injure or kill herself or another motorist," said Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the Minnesota State Patrol.

Polce arrested 303 drivers for DWI on theSaturday before Christmas, Dec. 20, the most of any day during the six-week campaign. The State Patrol's east metro district had the most arrests with 168 during the campaign, followed by 153 in the west metro and 100 by the Minneapolis Police Department.

In greater Minnesota, the top arresting agencies were the State Patrol's Rochester district with 44, the St. Cloud district with 43 and the Stearns County Sheriff's Office with 37. To see where drivers where arrested, click here.

Police also wrote 2,093 tickets to motorists who were not wearing their seat belt.

The Drive: Transit tips for the frigid cold

Posted by: Tim Harlow Updated: January 6, 2015 - 1:32 PM

It's not quite the polar vortex that we suffered through last winter - at least not yet - but bone-chilling cold is in the forecast for the next few days.

The arctic-like conditions can do a number on vehicles and humans as car batteries drain and flesh can freeze in just a matter of minutes. So to keep you on the road and warm as the coldest air of the season moves in, here are a few tips for getting around:

BY VEHICLE

Monday was an extremely busy day for AAA Minnesota-Iowa and AAA Minneapolis. Both agencies logged more than double their normal amount of calls for service by mid-afternoon.  Tuesday and Wednesday are expected to be just as busy. The most common calls were for jump starts and tows.

But with so many calls coming in, drivers need to be prepared to wait as long as an hour for service during the busiest times, said Jamie Korf, a spokeswoman for AAA Minneapolis.

"We are responding to calls for those who do not have the means of shelter vs. those who are in safe, unexposed quarters" Korf said. But still the wait could be a while.

If the unfortunate happens, motorists should have an emergency kit on board.  Be sure to have a flashlight, jumper cables, flares, basic tools, water and non-perishable food items. A fully-charged cell phone would be a good idea, too 

In addition, Korf offered the following suggestions:

  • Warm up your vehicle for 5-10 minutes before heading out. This allows oil and engine to warm up, as well as the heat/defrosting systems.
  • If your locks are frozen in the morning: warm the key. Don't pour warm water on the car, as it may re-freeze.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up

Other advice I've collected over the years from AAA and local body shops include:

  • Use the tires recommended by your vehicle's manufacturer for the best snow traction and make sure the tires are inflated to the proper levels.
  • Get the battery tested and make sure the charging system is working. Mechanics also recommend getting your battery tested if it is more than three years old.
  • Use coolant that provides anti-freeze protection down to the lowest temperature you are likely to encounter. Here in Minnesota that's very low.
  • Visibility is key in winter. Replace broken windows and worn windshield wipers

BY PUBLIC TRANSIT

Wind chill can bring on frostbite in few as 10 minutes according to the National Weather Service, so here are tips for those waiting outside for buses and trains:

  • Limit your wait time. Use NexTrip to find departure times and limit the time standing at a train or bus stop. NexTrip is offers schedules for Metro Transit, Plymouth Metrolink, Maple Grove Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit and Southwest Transit routes.
  • Take advantage of heaters and shelters that are available at busy park-and-ride lots, rail platforms and transit centers.
  • Dress in layers to comfortably withstand low temperatures
  • Wear snow boots or foot ware that can grip the surface. Rail platforms and floors on trains and buses can become slippery from snow and water
  • Wear reflective clothing to help bus drivers spot you, especially in the early mornings before sunrise and evenings after sun set
  • If a bus stop has not been cleared of snow, stand in the safest place possible. Buses will not stop at places deemed unsafe.
  • Wait for your bus on the sidewalk away from the curb and make sure it stops before approaching it
  • Never cross in front of a bus unless it is stopped at a traffic light. Don't run after or along side of a bus or train. Play it safe and wait for the next one.
  • Consider traveling early in the morning or later in the evening when buses and trains are less crowded.

BY BICYCLE

Our friends at Bike Walk Twin Cities have these suggestions for those who move about on two wheels

  • Ride on bare pavement or non-compacted snow when possible. Bicyclists are allowed to use the general traffic lanes, which may be necessary if bike lanes have not been cleared.
  • Take curves and turns slower than normal and allow longer distances for stopping and braking.
  • Follow traffic laws and ride defensively as motorists could make a mistake
  • Stay visible by wearing headlights, taillights and wearing reflective clothing
  • Dress in layers. You should feel chilly when you start. If you are warm then, you will likely be boiling as you get into your ride.  Be ready to shed layers when necessary.
  • But be sure to cover all extremities, including hands, neck and feet. Goggles are recommended to protect from grime and dirt that might fly into your eyes.
  • Make sure your brakes are in good working order and the chain is greased. A wet lube is ideal for snowy conditions.

Keeping tabs on Monday's morning commute

Posted by: Tim Harlow Updated: December 8, 2014 - 5:36 AM

Good morning, commuters!

It's murky with patches of drizzle and freezing rain, so the weather could play a role in this morning's commute. Be alert for isolated slippery spots, especially the further out you get from the core of the metro.

Up in White Bear Lake, the right lane of eastbound 694 at Hwy. 61 is closed. A power pole fire knocked out electricity and Xcel Energy crews are on the scene doing repairs. MnDOT says this lane closure could last until this afternoon.

The lanes of westbound 94 are back open between Hwy. 61 and 35E. That's following a weekend closure. However, the ramp from northbound Hwy. 52 to westbound 94 is still closed.

The right lane closure on eastbound 94 in Minneapolis is back. More noise wall work means the right lane at Huron Blvd. is blocked until 3 p.m. today.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the roads and rails this morning, reporting any delays or issues — and I will need your help.

If you see or hear about any congestion, delays or problems, e-mail drive@startribune or tweet @stribdrive.

Goal of cutting the number of 2014 traffic-related deaths to 350 or fewer is in reach

Posted by: Tim Harlow Updated: November 14, 2014 - 11:35 AM

The Minnesota Department of Traffic Safety through its Toward Zero Deaths initiative has a goal of reducing the number of fatalities on state roads to 350 this year. The goal is in reach.

The death of 31-year-old Renee Hallberg of Monticello on Thursday brought the total for 2014 to 304, or 21 fewer than at this time last year. In total, 387 people died in traffic crashes on state roads in 2013. Hallberg was taking the ramp from Hwy. 15 to eastbound I-94 near St. Cloud around 7:30 p.m. when she drifted off the road. Hallberg struck a guardrail and overpass pillar before veering off the road, the State Patrol said.

Today marks the second and final day of the annual Toward Zero Deaths conference in Duluth. More than 800 traffic safety advocates, including law enforcement officers, emergency medical and trauma service providers, traffic engineers and public health officials are in attendance.

The two-day conference at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center is billed as a forum for sharing information on best practices in engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency medical/health services and for identifying new approaches to reducing the number of traffic fatalities and life-changing injuries on Minnesota roads. It is coordinated by the state departments of  Public Safety, Transportation, and Health.

TZD was started in 2003, a year in which the state recorded 657 deaths on the roads. Since then, the number of fatalities has dropped 41 percent to under 400. The high-water mark was 1,060 deaths in 1968.

Among the leading causes of crashes are driver distraction, speeding and alcohol.

Here are crash numbers from the past decade as provided by the DPS:

  • 2003 – 655
  • 2004 – 567
  • 2005 – 559
  • 2006 – 494
  • 2007 – 510
  • 2008 – 455
  • 2009 – 421
  • 2010 – 411
  • 2011 – 368
  • 2012 – 395
  • 2013 – 387

Keeping tabs on Thursday's morning commute

Posted by: Tim Harlow Updated: November 13, 2014 - 5:33 AM

Good morning, commuters!

The Thursday morning rush hour begins with lingering road work on northbound I-494 at 47th Avenue in Plymouth.

Beware of slick spots. The State Patrol is responding to two vehicles off the road on northbound I-35 in the Elko New Market area, exit 76.

Later this morning, eastbound I-94 will be down a lane between Huron Blvd. and Hwy. 280. through Nov. 24. One exception, the fourth lane will be open between 3 and 6 p.m. on weekdays to accommodate rush hour traffic.-- Scratch that.  This work has been pushed back until Friday.

The reason for the lane drop: MnDOT will be working on the noise wall on the south side of the freeway.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the roads and rails this morning, reporting any delays or issues — and I will need your help.

If you see or hear about any congestion, delays or problems, e-mail drive@startribune or tweet @stribdrive.

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