When you’re driving to your Thanksgiving destination this week, notice the large share of Minnesota cars operating with their headlights on during daytime hours.
That may be a habit instilled 50 years ago, when then-Gov. Elmer Andersen initiated a safe driving campaign he called “Lights On for Safety,” and made it a priority during holiday weekends.
“I wanted to find some little device to remind people to be more careful,” Andersen explained in his 2000 autobiography, “A Man’s Reach.” The campaign lasted for several months and received considerable free publicity.
“I believe it served some purpose – other than to occasionally drain someone’s battery when he or she failed to turn the lights off!”
Andersen’s safety push came to mind last week with news that traffic fatalities are declining at a good clip for the fourth consecutive year. As of Nov. 15 the state had recorded 303 traffic deaths for the year, down from 357 at the same time a year ago.
Better still: the death rate on state roads is 38 percent lower than a decade ago – despite a growing population.
Among the reasons for the improvement cited by public safety officials are improved road and vehicle design, better targeted law enforcement, and the Great Recession, which reduced the number of miles driven.
Minnesota was one of six states in 2010 that had embarked on Toward Zero Deaths, a multi-pronged national strategy aimed at driving down fatality rates.
In 1961, Andersen was all for systemic change to end the carnage that then was all too common on state roads. He accelerated construction of the interstate highway system to get people off unsafe two-lane highways.
He favored stiffer drunken driving laws and an increase in State Patrol ranks. Those measures paid off.
But he also held that safety is every driver’s responsibility.
“Seeing lights coming their way would remind drivers to slow down, be alert, and obey traffic laws,” he said.
May it be so on state roads this weekend. Turn your lights on, and drive carefully.
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