Our view: Vision Zero takes good step forward

Herald pull quote, 9/5/19

“Lane departure” describes when a vehicle leaves a highway – an interstate, for instance – and heads into ominous territory. Often, it means crossing into oncoming traffic.

A five-year study in North Dakota found that lane departures were the primary reason for highway fatalities in the state. The study was conducted as part of the Vision Zero effort, pushed by Gov. Doug Burgum, to reduce North Dakota traffic deaths to zero.

Vision Zero is a five-year strategy that its boosters hope will reduce the state’s traffic deaths to zero. It would be quite an improvement, since there were 116 as recently as 2017; the state’s highway fatality rate generally is higher than the national trend.

So using a strategy that employs enforcement, education, engineering and medical services, Vision Zero has been rolled out with an initial goal of reducing North Dakota’s highway fatalities to 75 by 2025. We’re all for Vision Zero, although we have said before that traffic fatalities in the state likely will not decrease through education and safety measures alone. Serious legislation, in the form of higher traffic fines and harsher penalties for major offenses like DUI, is necessary, too.

But safety measures will help, which is why we were pleased to see the state Department of Transportation move forward with a project to install cross-median barriers on stretches of North Dakota’s interstate highways. For now, the barriers only are being installed along busy stretches of roadway in and around Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck-Mandan. The decision to install the barriers there was based on various factors, including traffic counts and speed.


The barriers are simple in design – three or four steel cables strung along posts that have the appearance of a thick country fence. They are placed 8 to 20 feet from the shoulder, in the grassy median in the middle of the interstate highways.

A report published in the Herald earlier this week noted the cables are designed to detach from the posts when hit by a vehicle, in turn slowing the vehicle and redirecting it away from oncoming traffic.

Do they really work?

Apparently so. The DOT cites data from Minnesota, where during the past 10 years there has been a 95 percent reduction of cross-median accidents in stretches where the barriers are installed. Also, the DOT cites Federal Highway Administration data that shows a 97 percent drop in accidents on rural four-lane freeways that are separated by the barriers.

Some motorcycle groups have complained, saying they are concerned about the injuries riders can sustain when colliding with the barriers. Such concerns are valid, although the DOT notes that during the 10-year study in Minnesota, there were no motorcycle fatalities attributed to the barriers.

The barriers come with a cost – about $1.17 million for a nearly six-mile stretch near Fargo. To us, it’s worth it.

Again, Vision Zero will not truly be achieved until North Dakota snaps out of its laissez faire approach to speeding. But being proactive with safety measures along the state’s highways is a good way to push ahead on this important statewide initiative.

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