Experts who give speeches say that one way to get an audience’s attention is to use an interesting fact. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has taken that advice.

Last week the agency started flashing death statistics on overhead message boards to draw attention to the dangers of speeding and to get lead-foot drivers to lay off the gas pedal.

“1 in 5 traffic deaths are speed related,” said a Twitter-like message that appeared on some of the 150 signs throughout the state. The campaign, a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, is putting facts like these on the signs that usually post freeway travel times and information about crashes, construction and road conditions.

“We hope people will stop and say, ‘Wow, that is a lot,’ ” said Sue Groth, a MnDOT state traffic engineer. “That might be more useful and interesting and get the conversation going with their neighbors.”

Law enforcement across the state wrapped up a three-week speeding enforcement effort on Sunday. As of Wednesday, officers had written 5,793 speeding tickets. They also cited 21 motorists for drunken driving and 590 drivers for not wearing seat belts, according to Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the State Patrol.

Over the past three years, 243 people have been killed in crashes in which speeding was a major factor. Of those, 60 percent (138) involved people under 30. In contrast just 5 percent (12) involved people over 65.

The speeding crackdown comes as officials report that 166 people have been killed on state roads this year, a 7 percent jump from the 149 at this time last year. Motorists tend to drive faster during the summer, and higher speeds make it more likely that a driver will lose control or be unable to respond to changing conditions. That increases the severity of crashes and injuries, according to the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety (OTS).

“These signs give us a great opportunity to deliver important messages where and when it counts, directly to people behind the wheel,” said Donna Berger, director of the OTS.

Next month, in conjunction with a stepped-up effort to catch drivers who have had a few too many, messages will flash, “1 in 4 deaths caused by drunk drivers.”

In the past, messages were a lot more formal. They read: “Extra DWI enforcement this weekend. Plan for a sober ride.”

With the increase in fatal crashes this year, Groth said it was time to change things up.

“Deaths are up and we have to change that,” she said. “We hope to educate drivers about their behavior. We hope this will drive the message home.”

Groth said the messages will appear mainly during nonpeak travel times so they don’t supersede real-time information that motorists depend on.

MnDOT uses the boards about 30 times a year to display safety messages about the five leading causes of fatal crashes on state roads as identified by the Department of Public Safety. Those include speeding, drunken driving, seat belt usage, texting while driving and motorcycle safety, said Brian Kary, MnDOT freeway operations engineer.

I’d propose a sixth crash-avoidance tip: Get slow drivers out of the left lane.



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