Robert Zak cruised down the straightaway of the Dakota County Technical College driving track at 60 miles per hour, then slammed on the brakes and brought his Ford Fusion to a screeching halt. It took him nearly 80 feet to come to a complete stop.
Zak made another pass down the track, this time at 70 miles per hour. He needed nearly 103 feet to bring his car to a complete stop. That was not fast enough as he passed the back end of a car parked on the side of the track, a car Zak would have rear-ended if it had been in a traffic lane.
On Wednesday, Zak, a lieutenant with the State Patrol, joined with officials from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to put on the demonstration to show how long it takes to stop while traveling at various speeds and how drivers' reaction time goes down the faster they go. It comes as law enforcement from 300 agencies statewide begin a two-week speeding enforcement campaign from Friday through July 23.
"The faster the speed, the harder it is to stop a vehicle," Zak said. "The speed limit is the law. It is not a suggestion. Don't speed. It could be the difference between life and death."
Speeding may seem like a harmless offense; after all, most motorists feel OK going anywhere from 5 to 10 miles per hour over the limit. A study in October by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 45 percent of teens and motorists ages 35 to 55 reported driving 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway. A State Farm study found that nearly half of respondents say they sometimes, often or always drive 10 miles per hour over the limit.
But more alarming to state officials is that 92 people died in speed-related crashes last year, an 18 percent jump from the 78 fatalities recorded in 2015. Over the past five years, an average of 83 people have died in crashes in which speed was a factor. The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is particularly dangerous, now infamously known as the "100 Deadliest Days" on the road.
"Speed kills," said Donna Berger, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety. "Unfortunately not enough people are heeding that warning. Most speeders think they are above average drivers, but they are 60 percent more likely to be in a crash. Drive Minnesota Nice and choose to obey the speed limit."
The state's crackdown on speeding coincides with a national effort and is paid for using funds allocated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
While officers will be on the lookout for lead-footed drivers statewide, target teams will be stationed along routes known to see fast drivers, including I-494 in Bloomington, near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and on I-94 in the construction zone from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Center.
"We'll focus on areas that we get complaints from the public," said Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the State Patrol. "We enforce speed all the time, but when people see us there, they do slow down."
In the Wednesday exercise, the DPS set up cones along both sides of the track, each 10 feet apart. A tall stack of cones was placed 30 feet from the braking point and represented a child darting into the street. Zak rolled along at 25 miles per hour and was able to stop in just 21 feet, thus avoiding the child. At 40 miles per hour, he was not successful. The demonstration showed that bad things can happen even at slow speed, he said.
"Speed — it could be the difference between life and death," he said.
Speeding is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle deaths in Minnesota, accounting for about 1 in 5 fatalities. It ranked second behind drunken driving and just ahead of distracted driving, according to the DPS. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says one-third of all fatal automobile crashes involve drivers who are speeding.
A ticket for speeding will cost a driver $110 plus court costs for going 10 mph over the speed limit. Fines double for motorists caught going 20 or more mph over the limit. Those caught breaking the law in a work zone will get a minimum fine of $300. Motorists caught going more than 100 mph can lose their license for six months.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768