Minnesotans are mourning the deaths of 11 young people in traffic crashes over the past week, most of them involving teenage drivers suspected of breaking one or more of the state’s growing list of highway safety laws.
Alcohol appears to be a factor in two of the four crack-ups, text-messaging behind the wheel in another. In the head-on collision at 2:40 a.m. Sunday in Isanti County that claimed the lives of six people, three of the victims were riding with a just-licensed 16-year-old in violation of laws restricting novice drivers and mandating seat-belt use.
Does this mean these rules, which often stir controversy over supposed intrusions on drivers’ privacy, are useless? Only if you think the laws against murder, rape and robbery serve no public purpose because those crimes continue to be committed. In fact, stepped-up traffic safety statutes deserve much of the credit for sharply declining levels of highway carnage in recent decades.
But, as with the most serious crimes, enforcement of traffic laws will never head off all the damage. Even a full-fledged police state, which none of us advocates, would fall well short of that. Still, we can hope that public focus on the current spate of tragedies will increase awareness of and compliance with common-sense traffic laws that are saving lives every day.