Wright Co. drivers tagged again – this time, teens behind wheel

November 26, 2007

By Lynda Jensen

When it comes to teens and driving, the two might be a precarious combination, but new statistics from the state add yet another dimension to the idea – where drivers are located.

Top counties that registered statistics for traffic deaths for young people aged 16 to 19 were a mix of metro and non-metro areas, with pockets of fatal accidents across the middle of the state. See chart.

Wright County once again made the top 10 list of dubious statistics, ranking eighth in line behind other somewhat unlikely counties; some of which previously missed the lists for top DUIs and speed.

Side by side, Wright abuts two counties that rated fairly low on the list – McLeod at 75th out of a total of 87 counties, and Meeker at 74th.

Carver County ranked 38th, or about halfway down the list.

Many of the 176 Minnesota teenage traffic deaths during the three-year study period, from 2004-2006, occurred in small pockets of the state — primarily the metro area, central counties, and southeastern Minnesota, according to the Department of Public Safety.

At least 98 — more than half of those age 16 to 19 killed — were not belted, and belt use was unknown in 14 cases. In greater Minnesota, 58 percent of the deaths were not belted, compared to 44 percent in the metro.

The seven-county metro area accounted for 54 deaths or one-third of the total, of which 24 drivers or occupants were not belted. A large majority (70 percent) of the metro fatalities were in three counties: Anoka (14), Dakota (13) and Washington (10). In Hennepin County, six were killed and three were unbelted. Ramsey County had seven deaths of which four drivers or occupants were not buckled up.

In central Minnesota, Benton (1), Kanabec (4), Mille Lacs (1), Morrison (5), Sherburne (5), Stearns (4), and Wright (6) counties accounted for 26 deaths; 16 were not belted.

Cheri Marti, director of DPS, Office of Traffic Safety says it’s critical for parents to stress belt use, and continue to monitor and train teens in a variety of driving conditions and environments — even after the teen is licensed.

Marti said it is effective for parents to establish sensible rules to mitigate crash factors — such as not allowing nighttime driving, and providing passenger limits, and cell phone/electronic device restrictions.

“As they gain experience and demonstrate responsible driving, parents can allow for more privileges,” says Marti. Cell phone use is illegal for drivers with a permit or provisional license.

Marti says parents should be role models behind the wheel: belt up, drive at safe speeds, pay attention, put down the cell phone, and don’t drive aggressively.