As our days continue to get shorter and we move into the fall and winter season, we are commuting and driving more in the dark.

The National Safety Council estimates that over 42,000 people were killed nationwide in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019. The first half of 2021 is shaping up similarly. Our roadways continue to pose some of the biggest risks we face each day, whether we are driving, riding or simply walking across the street. This increase is a deadly trend that started last year during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. These stats are trending high both nationally and locally in Cass County. We have seen an increase in motor vehicle crashes, both with and without injury, since the pandemic started. While we are still working to understand these numbers, it trends away from the work that was being done to successfully decrease injury and fatal accidents through partnerships such as the Toward Zero Deaths campaign. So far this year we have responded to six fatal traffic crashes, 69 motor vehicle crashes with injury and 159 motor vehicle crashes without injury. These numbers are much higher than we have seen in recent years.

Related: Sheriff’s Corner: It’s the time of year to talk about school bus safety

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office and National Safety Council would like to remind all drivers of some basic safety tips that can reduce or eliminate motor vehicle crashes, allow your trips to be safe and guarantee that you reach your destination.

1. Prepare before you go: Before hitting the road, make sure your car is safe for driving. Vehicle owners should check the oil, put air in the tires, and check for and repair open recalls.

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2. Drive distraction-free: Thousands have died in crashes involving cell phone use. Put your phones away and just drive without distraction.

3. Slow down: Speeding is a factor in more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities. Drive the speed limit and do not exceed it. Be sure to pay attention to those walking and biking in order to keep all road users safe. More and more users are on the roadway in a variety of modes of transportation and we all need to share the roadway safely. Bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and other road users may be more common. Respect all road users and give everyone around you space to be safe.

4. Designate a sober driver or arrange alternate transportation: Alcohol is only one cause of impaired driving. Drugs, including opioids, marijuana and some over-the-counter medicines, can cause drowsiness, alter visual functions and affect mental judgment and motor skills.

5. Avoid fatigued driving: Getting behind the wheel while tired can be deadly. Ensure you are well-rested before you get on the road.

6. Buckle up: Seat belts are estimated to have saved 374,276 lives. Every occupant should buckle up appropriately. Teens have the lowest rates of seat belt use among all age groups. Talk with teens in your household about speed and safety belt use.

7. Protect vulnerable passengers: Child safety seats significantly reduce the risk of infant and toddler deaths. Make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions before installing a car seat. If you need help, visit the National Child Passenger Safety Board at to find a certified technician near you.

8. Look before you lock: With temperatures rising across the country and when special occasions break routine, make it a priority to ensure you don’t leave the car without your child passengers. The temperature in your vehicle can increase up to 19 degrees Fahrenheit in the first 10 minutes after parking and turning off the engine. This is also very important for pets.

9. Understand your vehicle’s on-board safety systems: Hundreds of millions of cars on the roads have safety technologies – new and old – that help reduce the risk of crashes and deaths. But even the most advanced safety feature cannot replace a safe, focused driver in the car. Visit to learn more about these features and how to use them.

10. Take an alternate path: For shorter trips, consider leaving the car at home and finding a safe biking or walking route to get when you’re headed.

Related: Sheriff’s Corner: Be respectful, follow the rules out on the water

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: By email at; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.