Minnesota Department of Transportation

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News Release

Oct. 25, 2018

Toward Zero Deaths program honors two local leaders

MANKATO, Minn. — Two southern Minnesota community members, Emily Steffens, Dodge Center, and Jeff Strom, Albert Lea, were among the 10 individuals and organizations honored by the state departments of health, public safety and transportation for improving traffic safety under the Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths program. The awards were announced at the statewide TZD conference Oct. 23-24 in Mankato.

Steffens was honored with a Special Award of Recognition for writing a weekly newspaper column called “It’s My Life: Living with Severe Traumatic Brain Injury.”

Strom was honored with the Education Star Award for his community outreach efforts focusing on teen drivers and encouraging motorists to make good choices behind the wheel.

Steffens, her high school class valedictorian, was seriously injured in a car crash one week after graduation. She and three of her friends traveled to the Twin Cities to register for college classes when a RV pulled in front of the car where she was a passenger in the back seat. Because she was not wearing a seat belt, the crash threw her into the front seat and she struck the dashboard. Steffens was in a coma for nearly three months. She is paralyzed on the right side and partially blind in both eyes. She also suffers from significant memory issues.

Two years ago, Steffens began to share her life and its challenges through a newspaper column. Because of her memory issues, she and her father sit down and discuss what messages to convey. Steffens dictates as her father writes it down. When she is done, she types it on the computer and submits it.

She uses the column to educate the community on the importance of seat belt use. Her columns often focus on how her life is forever changed because of not wearing a seat belt. The column is her way of trying to change behavior so another family doesn’t have to go through what she went through.

Steffen and her parents support the TZD program by speaking at media events, most recently at the Southeast TZD Regional Seat Belt kickoff.

Strom has participated in TZD since its inception. He had led the Freeborn County TZD  Safe Roads Coalition. He conducts quarterly fatal review committee meetings, where he brings TZD partners together to review all serious and fatal crashes in the county.

He participates in traffic safety events at many schools in the area and organizes mock crashes and impact speakers for community events.

Strom volunteers to teach the parent component of driver’s education and partners with Freeborn County Public Health to coordinate monthly child passenger safety clinics. He also partnered with Freeborn County Partners in Prevention to secure funding to purchase a distracted driving simulator.

“More than ever, we need people who are passionate about traffic safety to find innovative ways to reduce traffic-related deaths,” said Kristine Hernandez, Minnesota statewide TZD program coordinator. “I appreciate hearing about new ideas that I can share across the state.”
The Minnesota TZD program is an interdisciplinary partnership with the state departments of health, transportation and public safety.

Learn more about TZD, including a full list of award recipients, at www.minnesotatzd.org.

The Southeast Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths program brings area law enforcement, public health educators, engineers and emergency medical and trauma services together to reduce the number of traffic fatalities and severe injuries to zero in southeast Minnesota. The 11-county area encompasses:  Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha and Winona counties.