Annual state traffic deaths drop under 400
Traffic crashes in Minnesota claimed the lives of 349 people in 2011, according to preliminary reports from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety. The figure represents a 38 percent reduction in deaths since 2001, and a fourth consecutive annual decline in fatalities.
The Department of Public Safety projects the final total — available in early summer as additional crash reports are submitted — to be around 11 percent below the 2010 figure (411) and the lowest since 1944 (356).
“The continuing reduction of preventable traffic deaths is a true Minnesota success story that every motorist has supported and played a critical role in achieving,” said Donna Berger, DPS Office of Traffic Safety director, in a news release. “This progress demonstrates that the epidemic of hundreds of tragedies does not have to be our annual reality.”
DPS officials note positive driver behavior is propelling the progress. Seat belt compliance is at a record high 93 percent while alcohol-related fatal and injury crashes, and DWI arrests continue to drop.
Other factors include traffic safety legislation, such as primary seat belt law; enhanced enforcement coupled with education efforts; effective MnDOT, county and local engineering improvements; and efficient emergency trauma response. Officials also credit safer vehicles for the trend.
A critical statistic to determine road safety is the death rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. DPS estimates the 2011 vehicle miles traveled will be 0.65, which would be the lowest ever for Minnesota. In 2010, the state VMT fatality rate was less than one person (0.72) — the second lowest in the nation, surpassed only by Massachusetts — and down from a rate of 5.52 in 1966.
Since 2000, the state’s annual traffic deaths have trended downward: in 2000 there were 625 deaths;
2001 — 568; 2002 — 657; 2003 — 655; 2004 — 567; 2005 — 559; 2006 — 494; 2007 — 510; 2008 — 455; 2009 — 421; 2010 — 411.
Preliminary 2011 Traffic Statistics:
• The preliminary 349 fatality count includes motorists (276 — down from the final 305 number in 2010), motorcyclists (37 — down from 45); pedestrians (32 — down from 36); and bicyclists (four — down from nine).
• 2011 preliminary DWI arrests — 24,671. There were 29,918 DWI arrests in 2010. The preliminary DWI arrest count will grow as alcohol-concentration data is finalized. Crash data regarding alcohol-related deaths will be reported later this year. Each year, alcohol-related crashes account for more than one-third of the state’s total death count. In 2010, there were 131 alcohol-related deaths, the lowest death count on record since being tracked in 1984.
• 2011’s deadliest months — October (46), July (46) and August (35). The safest months were January (15), March (19) and April (22).
DPS officials say stronger DWI sanctions, effective since July 2011, will support the trend of fewer alcohol-related incidents in 2012. These new DWI sanctions apply to all repeat DWI offenders, as well as for first-time DWI offenders with a 0.16 and above alcohol-concentration level. Under these sanctions, offenders must use ignition interlock for at least one year or face at least a year without driving privileges.
Interlock is connected to a vehicle starter and requires the driver to provide a breath sample below 0.02 alcohol-concentration in order for the vehicle to start.
The state’s traffic safety efforts are driven by its core traffic safety initiative, Toward Zero Deaths. A primary vision of the Toward Zero Deaths program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior. Toward Zero Deaths focuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes — education, enforcement, engineering and emergency trauma response.