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The Minnesota State Patrol is extending its Highway Enforcement for Aggressive Traffic (HEAT) initiative through the end of the year as the agency continues to crack down on speeding and enforce other traffic laws.

The HEAT program had been slated to end in August, but "we've heard from Minnesotans that they want to see us on the roads and they want us to stop aggressive drivers," said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the State Patrol. "Through these patrols around the state, our troopers can do just that."

During HEAT operations, troopers work in teams to saturate a specific enforcement area. In the Twin Cities, that primarily has been on freeways and highways. The patrol also uses helicopters to follow drivers who attempt to flee from a traffic stop, Langer said.

The patrol first used HEAT in the mid-2000s and has used it off and on since to promote compliance. A rise in risky driving — specifically speeding — during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the patrol to bring HEAT back in February.

Through Aug. 30, troopers have stopped more than 20,000 drivers, issued nearly 6,400 speeding citations and made 191 arrests. They also have taken 91 drunken drivers off the roads, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Since its return this year, troopers have worked more than 11,000 hours and logged more than 252,000 miles.

That effort is paying off, Langer said.

Traffic fatalities are down nearly 10% this year compared to last year — 280 vs. 305 — and deaths attributed to speeding have fallen from 117 last year to 81 through Wednesday, DPS data shows.

Despite the improvement, "we're still seeing too many deadly crashes and too many people driving dangerously," Langer said. "Our goal is to educate drivers on the dangers of speed along with enforcement."