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A saferoadmaps.org map of the central Twin Cities area showing sites where traffic fatalities have occurred.

For more on the "Safe Roads Map" Web site, watch the University News Service interview or read the transcript.

Mapping the road to safety

U researchers point out deadliest roads in America at www.saferoadmaps.org

By Elizabeth Giorgi and Gina Baas

Would you be surprised to learn that nine people died on the highway you take to work everyday? Or would you be shocked to see that six teenagers died within five miles of your home in fatal car accidents? With the help of a new Web site (www.saferoadmaps.org) using interactive maps developed by University of Minnesota researchers, you can learn those facts and more by simply typing in your address.

Researchers in the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS) have teamed up with Google Maps to map out every fatality in the nation with details on each death, so now you can see the "dead man's curve" on your commute or the "devil's triangle" in your neighborhood.

"When drivers type in their most common routes, they're shocked how much blood is being shed on it," says Tom Horan, research director for CERS. "When it's the route you or your loved ones use, the need to buckle up, slow down, and avoid distractions and drinking suddenly becomes much more personal and urgent."

To use the Web site, enter your address at www.saferoadmaps.org and you'll see a map or satellite image of all of the road fatalities that have occurred in the area. Plus, you'll have the ability to narrow down your search to see the age of the driver, whether speeding or drinking was a factor, and if the driver was wearing a seat belt.

One of the most important aspects of the new tool illustrates which life-saving public policies, such as strong seat belt laws, are in the chosen area.

"This tool sheds light on the importance of strong public policy that helps save lives in states across the nation," says Lee Munnich, director of CERS. "When you can visually see how many lives can be saved, it really changes how the public and policy makers see our roads."

CERS officials hope the tool will educate the public about road fatalities, especially residents of rural areas. U.S. Census figures show that 21 percent of Americans live in rural areas, and the Federal Highway Administration has found that 57 percent of highway deaths happen on rural roads.

"We must take aggressive action to reduce needless deaths on our nation's roadways and saferoadmaps.org will give citizens and policy makers the information they need to improve travel safety," says U.S. Congressman James Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "I applaud the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety for their leadership in developing tools that can help us all in our quest to improve the safety of our nation's roadways."

"By mapping out these fatalities, we can visually see what a large problem we have in our country," Munnich adds. "It is time to start working towards prevention and each one of these dots on the map represents that."