Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely police officer: Traffic safety is a team effort

Keith Vandervort
Posted 2/6/19

ELY - The state of Minnesota has a huge network of groups and individuals who work behind the scenes to ensure the safety of the traveling public. Sgt. George Burger of the Ely Police Department …

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Ely police officer: Traffic safety is a team effort

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ELY - The state of Minnesota has a huge network of groups and individuals who work behind the scenes to ensure the safety of the traveling public. Sgt. George Burger of the Ely Police Department talked to the Tuesday Group gathering this week about the work that often goes unnoticed by this network.

“We all work together to advance transportation safety and technology,” Burger said. “Whether a person is walking on a sidewalk, riding a bicycle, riding in an automobile, train, bus or semi-tractor, there are so many people that put thought and effort into making sure that every person gets from point A to point B in the safest way possible.”

Burger is a 13-year law enforcement professional in the Ely area and a certified drug recognition expert. He regularly attends statewide Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths conferences, and the National Lifesavers Conference.

He is a member of the city of Ely Planning and Zoning Commission and the city of Ely Streets and Infrastructure Committee, as well as serving as the Emergency Management director for the city of Ely.

He started his career in safety as a member of the Ely School Patrol Officer program. “I remember going out when it was pretty cold,” he said. “School wasn’t canceled but we still had to make sure the kids got across the street safely.”

His presentation focused on the Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths program (TZD). “TZD is a safety program that brings together engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency medical response and care,” he said. He asked how many deaths on Minnesota roads would be an acceptable number. “Think of your family members and friends. You wouldn’t want them included in that number. Zero deaths are the only acceptable number and we strive to reach that,” he said.

The statewide trauma system is available in Ely, Burger said, and that provides assistance when accidents do happen. “Ely has available-use helicopters and even airplanes to transport trauma patients to a level one trauma center, and the closest one to us here is at St. Mary’s Essentia Hospital in Duluth,” he said. A hospital in Fargo was also recently accredited as a trauma center.

“Around the Ely area, the leading factors in automobile crashes are from running off the road and intersection crashes,” Burger said. “A single vehicle running off the road may be caused by ice or snow, swerving to avoid a deer, or distracted driving.”

Burger quoted northeast Minnesota statistics on the leading cause of traffic deaths and severe injuries as alcohol-related causes, distracted driving, excessive speed and lack of seatbelt use. These regional statistics match up closely with nationwide trends and data, he said.

Speed limits are designated to make the flow of traffic safer, according to Burger. “Last week we all found out the Department of Transportation is increasing the speed limit on Hwy. 169,” he said. “That is an engineering aspect. They looked at that data. Did they make the road safer than it was? Engineers claim it is, so that’s what contributed to the increase.”

Burger voiced the general concern that driving faster on that road, especially during winter, is not necessarily safer. “To me, there are times when you shouldn’t be driving at the speed limit because of the condition of the road. Slow down and drive for the conditions,” he said.

Signals and signs are being improved to make intersections safer, he said. “Check out the traffic sensor signs at the Y Store intersection. Since those new signs went up, there is a significant decline in crashes in that area.”

Road sensors and weather condition stations, like near Robinson Lake, help with monitoring changing conditions on the roads, he said. “It helps MNDOT know when to send out plows and with what material to help keep the road safer,” he said.

Seatbelt use has been mandatory in Minnesota since 2009. “Since then we have had 132 fewer deaths, 434 fewer severe injuries, 1,270 fewer moderate injuries and as much as $67 million avoided in hospital charges,” he said.

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