Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Real stories from troopers about distracted driving in Minnesota April 22, 2016

Photographed along Interstate 35 between Medford and Faribault, northbound lane.

Photographed along Interstate 35 between Medford and Faribault, northbound lanes.

THE MINNESOTA STATE PATROL, on its Twitter account, asks this question: Is a text more important than the life in your car or the one next to you?

As law enforcement agencies across the state crack down on distracted driving during April, it becomes undeniably clear that texting while driving is a major problem. We all knew that. Right? Yet we continue to engage in behavior that endangers us and others. Our need to constantly be connected is a tough habit to kick.

Said a 25-year-old woman stopped recently by a trooper along 35E in the metro: “It’s such a habit.” She claimed to be unaware that she was texting. Really?

This billboard sponsored by Federated Insurance of Owatonna stands along Steele County Road 45 that runs parallel to Interstate 35 just north of Owatonna.

This billboard sponsored by Federated Insurance stands along Steele County Road 45 north of Owatonna. CR45 runs parallel to Interstate 35. The photo of the young girl on the billboard personalizes the message.

But a semi truck driver along I-90 clearly knew he was texting. His phone was Velcroed to his steering wheel. When a trooper stopped him for weaving and crossing out of his lane, he admitted to texting his kids. Really?

West of Fosston, a driver was stopped for changing speeds with her head down. The young mother admitted to texting. Her infant was in the back seat. Really?

This message is posted just north of Faribault along the northbound lanes of Interstate 35.

This message is posted just north of Faribault along the northbound lanes of Interstate 35.

In Shakopee, a trooper stopped a 37-year-old man who was looking online for a karate facility address while driving. Really?

And how about this one: A 27-year-old man was cited in Duluth for reading texts with his right hand, drinking with his left and steering with his knees. Really?

Is a text more important than the life in your car or the one next to you?

Be safe on the roads this weekend, my friends.

FYI: Click here to read the Minnesota Patrol Twitter page. And click here to read #SpeakUpMN, what Minnesotans are saying about distracted driving.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oh, blessed summer eve on a Minnesota farm June 30, 2011

If you look closely, you will see the farm dog in front of the 1915 farmhouse to which a machine shed was added.

WIDE SWATHS OF SHADOWS sliced across the farmyard as the sun edged toward the horizon on a whisper of a summer night.

The old farm dog, tethered to a chain next to the 1915 farmhouse-turned-granary-turned storage shed, rose from his resting place on a paw-worn patch of grass. Water and food bowls rested on the single cement step nearby, within his reach.

The dog didn’t bark, didn’t lunge, just let me be as I moved into his territory. He stood, paced and then eased onto his haunches, acknowledging my non-threatening presence as I dropped to one knee to view the world from his perspective.

I wanted only to photograph this guardian of the farm on a summer evening as absolutely picture-perfect as any day you’ll get in Minnesota. Still. Serene. Colors sharp like new crayons. Sunlight, eye-blinding bright to the west, on the other side of the barn, outside the dogs’ reach.

This June evening, for these few hours, this watchdog could not roam the farmyard. He could only eye the visitors seated across the gravel drive at a picnic table. Friends gathered for pizza and lemonade sweetened with fresh strawberries and then more berries atop angel food cake and ice cream topped off with whipped cream.

Laughter punctuated conversation. Then bibles flipped open to words written upon pages thin as butterfly wings. The shrill call of a cardinal pierced the silence between ideas shared and scripture read.

Then, as the farm dog watched, the friends bowed their heads in a prayer of thanksgiving—gratitude to God for protecting the owners of this farm from serious injury in a motor vehicle accident the previous day. A rear-end collision. Truck spinning, tipping onto its side along a Minnesota highway. Glass in teeth and waistbands and hair.

None of this the guard dog knew on this most blessed of summer evenings on a Minnesota farm.

TODAY, JUNE 30, has been designated as “Maroon Day” in Minnesota, historically the deadliest day on our state’s roadways. Since 2000, more fatal crashes have occurred on this final day of June, leading into the July Fourth holiday, than on any other day of the year. Statistics show 30 fatal crashes resulting in 35 deaths.

All of Minnesota’s nearly 600 state troopers, in their signature maroon vehicles, will be patrolling today.

Buckle up. Drive carefully and be safe.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling