WJON in Depth – St. Cloud Drivers: Are We The Worst? [VIDEO]
ST. CLOUD - Are St. Cloud drivers the worst in Minnesota? It's a comment that comes up often on social media, and our call-in shows.
There's a lasting rumor/story that leaves St. Cloud drivers in a negative light. Decades ago, a truck driver was asked on the Johnny Carson Show where his least favorite place was to drive. Apparently: he ended up giving St. Cloud a less-than-desirable shout out.
"Some truck driver on Johnny Carson was asked where the worst place was to drive truck and according to that, he said St. Cloud," St. Cloud mayor Dave Kleis says.
To determine how St. Cloud (Population: 66,297) stacks up with the rest of the state, we'll compare it with other similar metropolitan areas in the state: Rochester (Population: 110,742), Duluth (Population: 86,128) and Mankato (Population: 40,641). We will include raw numbers, along with adjustments for populations when applicable. Two categories (distracted and impaired driving) are a large focus, since the State Patrol says they are top contributors in crashes and poor driving.
NUMBER OF CRASHES
How many crashes happen in St. Cloud compared to other cities cities? According to the Minnesota State Patrol, here's how many crashes happened in each city from the years 2011-2014 (The latest year available):
-St. Cloud: 5,486 crashes (Percent for population: 8.27)
-Duluth: 7,566 crashes (Percent for population: 8.78)
-Rochester: 5,674 crashes (Percent for population: 5.12)
-Mankato: 3,291 crashes (Percent for population: 8.10)
The only major difference is seen here is in Rochester, with significantly fewer crashes when adjusted for population.
COMPARING ST. CLOUD AND ROCHESTER STATE PATROL DISTRICTS
Captain Jeff Westrum with the State Patrol says the Rochester district offers the closest comparison to the St. Cloud area for statistics. Here's how the two stacked up in February 2016:
-There were 3,334 traffic stops in the Rochester district compared to 2,593 in St. Cloud.
-The Rochester District had 54 impaired driving arrests, while the St. Cloud District had 13.
-The Rochester District had 165 total crashes compared to 190 in the St. Cloud District.
Westrum has years of experience patrolling in both areas and has seen no major differences.
"The drivers I've encountered here in the city of St. Cloud are just as good, or just as bad as the drivers I've encountered in the city of Rochester."
RECENT DISTRACTED DRIVING CITATIONS
Westrum says distracted driving citations are a new category for State Patrol Districts (Hence the smaller sample size). Recent numbers show St. Cloud trending above the Duluth and Rochester Districts.
Citations for February 2016:
-Rochester District (2100): 42 tickets and 28 warnings
-St. Cloud District (2630): 51 tickets and 41 warnings
-Duluth District (2700): 18 tickets and 25 warnings
The college student population in St. Cloud is seen as a large contributor to higher distracted driving numbers. Especially with cell phones and technology.
"Every age is prone to distracted driving, but younger drivers (16-30) grew up with electronics and are more prone to being distracted with them," Westrum says.
TRAFFIC STOPS, DUI CASES AND HIT AND RUNS CALLS FOR SERVICE
Specific citations and calls for service are across the board for St. Cloud, Duluth and Mankato. Traffic stops, hit and runs and intoxicated drivers were selected as indicators of poor driving decisions.
St. Cloud Police Department (2012-2015)
Traffic stops: 56,995 (Pop. adjustment: 85.97)
Hit and runs: 1,705 (Pop. adjustment: 2.57)
Intoxicated driver/DUI: 1,352 (Pop. adjustment: 2.04)
Duluth Police Department (2012-2015)
Traffic stops: 78,220 (Pop. adjustment: 90.8)
Hit and runs: 2155 (Pop. adjustment: 2.5)
Intoxicated driver/DUI: 1252 (Pop. adjustment: 1.45)
Mankato Police Department (2012-2015)
Traffic stops: 16,333 (Pop. adjustment: 40.19)
Hit and runs: 1,679 (Pop. adjustment: 4.13)
Intoxicated driver/DUI: 707 (Pop. adjustment: 1.74)
St. Cloud trends past Mankato and Duluth with intoxicated Driver/DUI calls for service. However, Mankato and Duluth have a higher average number of hit and runs and traffic stops. Rochester Police didn't respond to requests for specific statistics in these categories.
WHERE CAN ST. CLOUD IMPROVE?
Statistics show St. Cloud drivers aren't significantly different compared to other metro areas. However, there are some troublesome areas:
Distracted driving - Citations in this category are high and rising for St. Cloud. One factor for high numbers in St. Cloud is a larger population of college students, in comparison to a Rochester area.
"We have 30,000 students in this area...30,000. So there are a lot of people new to those roads and those intersections," Mayor Kleis says.
The State Patrol and St. Cloud Police both agree that younger drivers are more prone to technology distractions on the road.
"Use of distracted driving when it comes to cell phones is more geared towards the younger population. That's just because they've grown up in a world where their phones are a primary source of communication," St. Cloud Police Officer Darin Vossen says.
Lots of Intersections and Running Red Lights - There's no shortage of intersections in St. Cloud. Kleis said there are 1,787 in his recent state of the city speech. Having a lot of intersections and traffic lights create frustration and riskier choices for drivers. A notorious complaint in town: people barreling through left turns trying to make the light.
"You do see quite a bit of that in the city of St. Cloud, when after the light turns red, you can see two or three cars go, especially during the busier times of the day," Vossen says.
However, it's important to note that the traffic lights have an important purpose: they intend to keep higher traffic areas in town slower and safer.
"There's just a lot of people and you have to control that traffic through a lot of stop lights...and Rochester has just as many as St. Cloud," Westrum says.
Dangerous Intersections - The Highway 23 and Highway 15 intersections have been listed in reports as the most dangerous in the state. Between 2011-2015, there were 220 crashes at the intersections.
"Both the north and south junction of 15/23 have some of the highest number of crashes in the state," Thomas Dumont with MnDOT says.
A majority of the crashes here are minor property damage rear-end crashes due to the high level of congestion. A majority of the crashes happen in the free right turn area that aren't controlled by the signal system and in backups past 100 feet of the intersection.
With this in mind, Dumont disagrees with the statement that it's the most dangerous intersection in the state.
"In the last five years, there has only been one [serious] crash at both intersections and no fatalities. Would one consider these the most dangerous intersections when there are no fatal crashes?"
Kleis says in an ideal world, the intersections would be turned into diverging diamonds. However, the roads are state territory and diverging diamonds are expensive to put in.
THE GOOD FOR ST. CLOUD (Assorted Findings)
-St. Cloud has seen its intoxicated driver calls for service drop from 438 in 2012 to 289 in 2015.
-St. Cloud is below Duluth in terms of crash volume and number of traffic stops. St. Cloud remains on par with the Mankato area in most categories.
-Between 2011 and 2015, St. Cloud Police report that they've seen traffic stop numbers and complaints trending down (16,418 in 2011 and 14,451 in 2015).
-In 2014, 78,396 traffic crashes were reported to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. 361 people died and 29,439 were hurt.
-On an average day in 2014, there were 215 crashes, one death and 81 injuries.
-The 2014 known alcohol related statistics: 3,453 crashes, 111 deaths and 2,040 injuries and an estimated economic cost to Minnesota of over $214 million.
-Minnesota ranks as the 2nd best state in the nation in terms of overall traffic safety numbers, behind only Massachusetts.
-In 2014, Minnesota had 361 traffic deaths, which is a 6.7 percent decrease from the previous year.
St. Cloud is becoming more diverse and some say members of the Somali population are the bad drivers in town. Community leader through #UniteCloud Haji Yussuf says this is only another example of stereotyping.
"I've seen accidents that involve Somali Americans, I've seen accidents with white people and Asians. It's not like everyday I wake up and when I see an accident that it's a specific group that were in that accident."
No statistics from law enforcement exist on what race or culture is involved in crashes. Yussuf says new Somalis in St. Cloud need to go through the same testing as everyone else to get a drivers license.
"They really want to be law abiding because many are also going though the citizenship process and don't want anything on their record," Yussuf says.
Are St. Cloud drivers the worst in the state? Not at all. Statistics show we're not far off from a Duluth, Rochester or Mankato.
Does St. Cloud have areas it can improve its driving habits? Absolutely, yes.
Tom Nixon with Minnesota Towards Zero Deaths says everyone can improve their driving by shutting out distractions and paying close attention to the roads.
"Driving is no worse in St. Cloud than it is anywhere else as far as my opinion goes. I believe we all have a responsibility to slow down, pay attention, buckle up and make better choices when impaired,"
The claim "St. Cloud has the worst drivers!" isn't supported by statistics or authorities accounts. Police say it's a common trend for people to complain about the driving everywhere...because it's something we can all relate to.
"I think everybody has that, where they think everyone is a terrible driver in their neighborhood because they have little kids running around," Westrum says.
"People are very quick to rationalize their own mistakes when it comes to the road, but are very quick to point out the errors of other people," Vossen says.
"And it's amazing...it's always somebody else that's the bad driver," Kleis says.
(WJON Video Reporter Alex Svejkovsky contributed to this series)