FAIRMONT - While police already have stepped up patrols for the "Drive Sober, or Get Pulled Over" campaign, agencies in the region are taking it to the next level.
Law enforcement from Martin, Faribault, Blue Earth and Waseca counties - along with Gold Cross Ambulance and engineers from the Minnesota Department of Transportation - gathered at Flying Goose Campground east of Fairmont on Thursday morning to promote a safe Labor Day weekend.
"Labor Day is a great holiday for Minnesota," said Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma. "Everyone wants to get outdoors and go camping, fishing, all those things. But our goal is to make sure everyone makes it back to where they need to be Tuesday, back to work and school or taking care of your children."
The agencies involved announced that through the program "Toward Zero Deaths" they will work together to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
"This is actually the 10th year of the 'Toward Zero Deaths' program," said Gordon Regenscheid, an engineer with MnDOT. "It's been an impressive program. When we started, we had about 600 deaths a year, and last year it was down to 411. So we've nearly reduced the traffic fatalities by a third in 10 years."
Regenscheid said the partnership also is helping with some other low-cost safety projects, such as rumble strips and identifying high-crash areas.
The goal of Toward Zero Deaths is to apply the four Es: education, engineering, enforcement and emergency medical and trauma services. The agencies hope to eventually create a culture in which traffic fatalities and injuries are no longer acceptable.
"We know it will take awhile to reach that 'Toward Zero Deaths' goal," said Capt. Brian West of the Minnesota State Patrol.
West argued that what makes driving while impaired so tragic is that it is completely avoidable.
"We should never have to arrest anyone for driving while impaired," he said. "With a little planning and preparation, it's completely avoidable ... But we'd rather arrest someone for driving while impaired, instead of going to the scene of an accident, and realize that with a sober driver, this would have never happened."
So far this year, Martin County has been lucky, following 11 deaths on roads in the county in 2010 and 19 in 2009. But because Labor Day is considered a "high-intensity" weekend for motorists and potential crashes, police are on heightened alert.
"All of us up here know what it's like to deliver a death message at 3 a.m.," West said. "We are trying to avoid the needless waste of lives."