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Traffic deaths rise in Minnesota for the first time in five years

In one category, numbers in Minnesota are headed in the wrong direction.

For the first time in five years, the number of traffic deaths increased in Minnesota as 378 people were killed in 2012, according to preliminary reports from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety. In 2011, 368 people died in crashes on Minnesota roads.

DPS projects the final total — available in early summer as additional crash reports are submitted — to be around 390, 6 percent above the 2011 figure. Despite the increase, 2012 will be the second safest year (behind 2011) since 356 people died on Minnesota roads in 1944. Officials expect common traffic safety issues will again be the primary contributing factors for the 2012 deaths: drunk driving, seat belt non-use, speeding and distracted driving.

In the lakes region, the preliminary number of road crash fatalities for the past two years include:

■ Area county: 2012 fatalities — 2011 fatalities.

• Aitkin: 1 — 2.

• Cass: 6 — 5.

• Crow Wing: 9 — 7.

• Mille Lacs: 3 — 7.

• Morrison: 5 — 8.

• Todd: 1 — 1.

• Wadena: 1 — 0.

Traffic safety officials say a warmer winter to start the year — leading to faster, unsafe speeds — and a spike in motorcyclist fatalities were the main factors for the increase in deaths. An early spring led to a longer and deadlier riding season as 53 motorcyclists were killed, a 26 percent increase from 42 deaths in 2011.

“We can’t forget the victims lost in these crashes, they are the reasons and reminders we all need to commit to safe driving behaviors in 2013,” said Donna Berger, DPS Office of Traffic Safety director, in a news release.

A federal report says 3.1 percent of Minnesota drivers have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel in the past 30 days. The analysis was reported this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It was based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and involved surveys of 147,000 drivers in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

The traffic-safety agency says 1 in 40 fatal crashes nationwide involves a drowsy driver.

The CDC says tired drivers often try to combat fatigue by opening, cranking the air conditioner or turning up the radio. The CDC says those tactics generally don’t help.

■ In the last decade, the state’s annual traffic deaths have trended downward as follows:

• In 2002 there were 657 deaths;

• 2003 — 655.

• 2004 — 567.

• 2005 — 559.

• 2006 — 494.

• 2007 — 510.

• 200 — 455.

• 2009 — 421.

• 2010 — 411.

• 2011 — 368.

In 2011, Minnesota had among the lowest and safest death rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the nation at 0.65.

■ 2012 preliminary death results.

The 378 deaths include:

• 281 motorists — down from the final 283 in 2011.

• 53 motorcyclists — up from 42 in 2011.

• 38 pedestrians — even with the 38 in 2011.

• Six bicyclists — up from five in 2011.

The deadliest months in 2012 were September (48), August (42) and October (38). The safest months were April (19), January (20) and March (23).

■ 2012 Preliminary driving while intoxicated (DWI) results.

• 26,628 motorists were arrested for DWI (preliminary). There were 29,918 DWI arrests in 2011. The DWI arrest count will grow as alcohol-concentration data is finalized. Drunk driving crash data will be reported later this year. Each year, drunk driving-related crashes account for more than one-third of the state’s total death count. In 2011, there were 111 drunk driving-related deaths.

■ Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) highlights

• Preliminary DWI information indicates at least 300 people were arrested for DWI on New Year’s Eve.

• OTS is investing federal grants totaling more than $7 million to 317 law enforcement agencies and community partner groups for enforcement and education campaigns, October 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013.

• The 2011 Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report notes 368 traffic deaths for the year, the lowest since 1944 and a 44 percent reduction in deaths from a decade ago.

•More than 4,000 DWI offenders are using ignition interlock to benefit road safety and ensure legal, sober driving.

This report contains information from The Associated Press.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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