Law enforcement agencies have not been called to a fatal crash along the dangerous segment of Hwy. 23 between Milaca and Foley in central Minnesota for about a year, and that’s definitely something to celebrate.

It’s also no coincidence.

Authorities from five agencies last year joined forces in an attempt to stop deadly wrecks, and their efforts appear to be paying off.

About a year ago a driver in a stolen vehicle and possibly under the influence of drugs and alcohol crossed the centerline of Hwy. 23 at 11th Avenue in Foley and slammed into a motorist heading in the opposite direction. The crash on Jan. 31 killed Lindsay Cardinal and left three young children without a mother. A week later Rocke Rowland, 70, died in another head-on crash just a few blocks from where Cardinal was killed.

The two fatal wrecks, combined with several serious crashes on the busy two-lane highway, were the last straw for deputies from sheriffs’ offices in Benton and Mille Lacs counties, police in Foley and Milaca and troopers from the State Patrol. They formed a partnership with the goal of making travel safer on Hwy. 23 between the two towns located about 15 miles apart, and last February they launched the Hwy. 23 Crash Reduction Project.

From Feb. 24 to the end of 2017, there were no crash-related deaths on the corridor, compared with three during the same 10-month period in 2016. It’s not just fatal wrecks that are down. The total number of crashes dropped 20 percent, from 37 in 2016 to 30 last year. The number of people hurt was cut in half, from 26 to 13.

The road itself has not changed much over that time, but there has been a constant police presence. And the eyes of the law have been watching for people driving dangerously, and cracking down on drivers who speed, are impaired or distracted, pass on the shoulders or fail to yield to stop signs. The agencies dedicated 554 hours of patrol time resulting in 1,093 traffic stops. Not all of those resulted in citations.

The biggest effect is that motorists are driving differently, said Benton County Sheriff Troy Heck.

The campaign included enforcement, social media posts and outreach in the community.

“The efforts of these law enforcement agencies and the public has undoubtedly saved lives. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners and the public to continue the work of making our roads a safer place,” Heck said.

Your bus ride of the future?

Last month members of the media got to tag along when the Minnesota Department of Transportation trotted out its new autonomous shuttle bus at its road research facility in Monticello. This week, the public can hop on and take a ride.

As part of Super Bowl festivities, MnDOT will show off the electric shuttle that can transport up to 12 people (six seated, six standing) between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday on Nicollet Mall between 3rd and 4th streets in downtown Minneapolis.

The fully automated or “self-driving” vehicle operates without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration and braking. MnDOT is testing the vehicle to see how it works in our winter environment.

The vehicle’s average speed is about 15 miles per hour.

 

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.