Families of traffic crash victims and road safety advocates gathered at the south steps of the State Capitol on Sunday to honor the lives of Minnesotans who have been killed or seriously injured in crashes this year.
The vigil was one of hundreds across the country as part of the annual World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims in the midst of a spike in road fatalities in Minnesota, with nearly 450 so far this year.
"The World Day of Remembrance also acknowledges that the impact of a crash hits extended families and communities as well, and that crashes take a toll on the broader safety community by creating more work for our state troopers, EMTs and emergency room doctors and nurses," said Sarah Risser, the event organizer. "So this day is also for all of the professionals who arrive at the scene."
As Risser spoke, the names of Minnesotans killed in crashes rolled on a TV screen. Beside her, candles spelled out "447" to represent the number of victims.
"The skyrocketing number of road fatalities is a growing public health crisis that deserves our most aggressive efforts," she said. "If we are going to reverse the trend, road traffic professionals and engineers need to consistently and intentionally prioritize safety over speed."
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, there have been 447 traffic deaths this year. In 2020, there were 358.
Multiple lawmakers joined Risser in calling for traffic safety.
Minnesota State Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, who sits on the Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, said she was optimistic that federal and state investment paired with "administrative improvements" would lead to safer roads. "There is a clear need to do more now to improve transportation safety," she said.
Minnesota State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, urged attendees to get in touch with their elected representatives and start conversations about road safety in their communities. He said that traffic crashes can be prevented. "It just takes leadership. It just takes will."
Former Secretary of State Mark Ritchie held up a photograph of his daughter Rachel, who was killed by drunk driver in 2000, and reflected on what remembering her means to him. He had taken a walk around the cemetery where she is buried earlier in the day with his wife. At the end of the walk, he said they came to a question: "In our remembrance, would Rachel be as proud of us in what we've done as we were and are as proud of her?"
"We've made a choice to make remembrance an action," he said. "To make remembrance not just remembering, but making a difference so that those who are gone can be proud of us and how we remember them."