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Dave Roepke, Published November 16 2010

Fargo police announce campaign to improve traffic safety

Fargo police unveiled on Monday the department’s response to a recent string of fatal traffic accidents, a push that includes an admittedly stark media campaign.

Advertising in both radio and on television will ask, “Are you getting it now?” All of the ads focus on the potential deadliness of car accidents, particularly the dangers of drunk driving.

For instance, one of the two TV ads cuts between gravestones and scenes of a party, with the sound of a heart flat-lining included.

“They are intended to be direct,” Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes said of the advertising, which will run through the end of the year and is budgeted for $10,000.

One of the two television spots centers on Dale Stoll, a Fargo officer who lost his 19-year-old daughter in a traffic accident about five years ago. Stoll said he was willing to share his story because the death of anyone’s child is unacceptable.

“You’ve got to take tragedy and turn it into triumph sometimes,” he said.

Two billboards – at 25th Street and Main Avenue, and 42nd Street and Ninth Avenue South – have an anti-drunken driving message, showing a grave and a badly wrecked car.

Ternes said the campaign is designed to reach drivers for whom prior warnings have gone “in one ear and out the other.”

“It can happen to anybody at any time and at any place,” the chief said.

A radio spot played at the Monday news conference had Craig Bohl, North Dakota State University’s head football coach, listing the accidents in which five people died in a three-week stretch in September and October.

After being informed by The Forum on Monday that Bohl has a lengthy record of speeding tickets, Ternes considered re-recording the radio piece of the campaign with a different voiceover.

On Monday evening, he said the department will stick with the Bohl-voiced public service announcement, in hopes it highlights traffic safety even more to have it come from someone with a history of traffic offenses.

The media push is part of what Ternes said will be a three-pronged approach in the wake of the fatalities, which have been the only traffic deaths in Fargo in 2009 and 2010.

Police will also emphasize enforcement and spend more time in high-traffic areas, such as arterial roads during rush hour and schools when students are arriving and departing.

“We want people to see us out and about in the community,” Ternes said.

He said officers won’t take “extreme measures,” such as ticketing for traveling a few miles per hour over posted limits. Police will be on the lookout for oft-ignored offenses such as making an improper turn and following too closely.

The strategies for dealing with the tragic run of fatal accidents are the result of a brainstorming session top police brass and supervisors had in late October.

Ternes didn’t mention at Monday’s news conference one of the ideas that came out of that meeting: working with the liquor industry on ways to further curb drunk driving.

The chief said afterward that some ideas have been discussed with bar owners, such as programs to subsidize cab rides, encourage designated driving or even expanding city bus service to later hours.

“All of those things have possibilities,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535