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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Slow down.

That's the crucial message about the most basic safety measure in driving: controlling your speed.

Not enough drivers are doing that. In fact, speeding is way up. And tragically, so are speeding-related deaths.

Nationally, more than 11,200 people died due to speeding-related crashes in 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Final 2021 data may show another jump of about 5%.

Closer to home, according to Minnesota Department of Public Safety data, 166 state motorists were killed in speed-related accidents in 2021, far ahead of the 122 lost in 2020 and more than double the toll of 75 just two years earlier.

This year, through June 19, according to DPS, there are 44 speed-related deaths, down 45% compared to this time last year but 13% higher than in the same period in 2020 and 57% higher than in 2019.

To try to raise awareness that speed kills, DPS just completed a statewide education and enforcement campaign in July. Now NHTSA is investing $8 million in a nationwide TV, radio, and social media campaign of public-service announcements.

The TV spot has versions in English and Spanish that feature an off-camera narrator who observes a speeding vehicle and says, "This guy was driving way over the speed limit." After a crash ensues, she implores viewers to "Look at the damage."

A similar montage takes place with a driver "going a lot over the speed limit," with the same call to "look at the damage" after the car hits a tree.

In the third, a driver is just going "a little over the speed limit." This time, however, the "damage" is a young girl in a hospital room, injured from the "little" bit of speeding.

The spot ends with the written tagline: "Speeding. It catches up with you."

Or maybe the State Patrol will, even if some of its troopers are concurrently contributing to the Minneapolis Police Department's desperate quest to get other kinds of crime under control.

Strikingly, this is the first time that NHTSA has offered a nationwide campaign about speeding. It's had previous success in changing other pernicious driver behavior, including not wearing seat belts, drunken driving, using cellphones to talk or text while driving, and not watching for cyclists, walkers, pedestrians and construction workers.

While none of these dangerous behaviors have been eliminated, appropriate stigmas now surround them. The same needs to happen regarding speeding, NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said in unveiling the campaign. "Drivers see speeding as no big deal," he said. "We need to see speeding as socially unacceptable and as dangerous as impaired driving."

The spike in speeding-related deaths is "tragic," "sad" and "completely preventable," Mike Hanson, director of the DPS's Office of Traffic Safety, told an editorial writer. Among the root causes, Hanson said, were increased speeds made possible by the decreased traffic that came with the beginning of the pandemic, a recklessness that has not gone away with the return of pre-pandemic traffic levels.

But beyond that, Hanson continued, "some drivers are really acting in a selfish way. We've lost the courtesy that we used to bring with us when we are in our car; it's very easy to be anonymous when you're behind the wheel."

The consequences can be catastrophic. "I'll put it very bluntly," Hanson said. "These selfish behaviors are killing people."

For this and so many other reasons (including environmental and economic factors) motorists should hear and heed the message to look at the damage done from speeding, and slow down.