What started out as a normal July day in 2012 ended in tragedy for a Marshall family when a drunk driver struck their vehicle and killed their youngest child.
“We were in Granite Falls and were heading to the cabin on Lake Minnewaska,” said Brad Bigler. “We were two miles from our destination when I heard Heather say ‘he’s in our lane.’”
Brad Bigler, wife Heather, their youngest son, Drake, and Sharon Schuler, Heather’s grandmother were struck by a drunk driver, and as a result Drake died.
The Biglers have told their story a number of times since the crash, but the audience was a bit different this past Thursday morning when they spoke before a room full of law enforcement officers, emergency personnel, engineers and transportation experts.
Brad and Heather Bigler were guest speakers at the sixth annual Southwest Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) regional workshop held at the RACC in Redwood Falls.
The message offered by the Biglers stressed what has become their mission.
“If you go out and drink, be sure to have someone drive you home,” Heather said, adding it is her hope a day is going to come when no one has to feel the kind of emotions they have experience because someone decided to drive after they had been drinking.
The Biglers may have been “preaching to the choir” Thursday, but the message they offered confirmed the focus of those working in public safety as they work to reduce traffic fatalities.
According to John Huseby, Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 engineer and co-chair of the region TZD committee, there are 39,500 people who die each year in the United States with $41 billion on medical costs and lost work.
The concept known as TZD in Minnesota is based on an idea that originated in Sweden when in 1997 it implemented a program called Vision Zero.
In European counties participating in vision zero from 2001-04 there was a 14 percent drop in traffic fatalities and serious injuries in crashes.
Minnesota was one of six states which began the TZD initiative in the United States.
The program began officially in Minnesota in 2003, which means the program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. IN 2003 there were 655 traffic fatalities. Just eight years later in 2011 the number had decreased to 368.
“Thats means we have saved more than 1,200 lives since TZD was implemented in Minnesota,” said Huseby. “We like to think TZD is making a difference in Minnesota.”
While the numbers are on the decline, the ultimate goal is zero, and efforts continue to focus on getting accomplishing that goal. Huseby said the goal is to drop the number below 350 by the end of 2014 and to decrease the number of serious injuries in crashes to below 850. He said in 2011 there were 1,159 serious injury crashes in Minnesota.
Page 2 of 2 - One of the major points of emphasis for the state is to increase seat belt use. Huseby said the national average is 93 percent, and in Minnesota the average is 82 percent.
“That needs to be 100 percent,” said Huseby.
Capt. John Ebner of the Minnesota State Patrol, who co-chairs the committee, said enforcement and education are big pieces in making changes, and he said in law enforcement there must be a move to zero tolerance, especially when it comes to seat belt use. There should be no more warnings, said Ebner, but a ticket should be given every time. That culture change is part of a strategic enforcement plan that is going to focus on increasing seat belt usage.
On an average day in Minnesota there are 203 crashes and one death, and as of May 20, 2013 there have been 112 traffic fatalities statewide.
Brad Bigler expressed the appreciation of his family for those who are in law enforcement, adding they respect the efforts they make even more today because of the experience they had.
More about TZD and its efforts in Minnesota may be found online at the Department of Public Safety Web site at www.dps.mn.gov.