Traffic fatalities decline in Minnesota in 2013

AST. PAUL – While the number of traffic accidents increased last year, the number of traffic fatalities fell to the second lowest total in a decade, according to a recent report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS).

There were 77,707 traffic accidents in Minnesota in 2013, but traffic fatalities fell to 387, according to Crash Facts, an annual summary of traffic accidents derived from law enforcement reports that describe how, why and where crashes occurred and who was involved.

Fatalities declined slightly this year. As of June 27, there were 137 state road deaths, compared to 143 at the same time in 2013.

“Don’t get lost in the statistics and lose sight of the person behind each one of these numbers – a family member, friend, neighbor or coworker, said DPS Commissioner Mona Dohman. “While we’re making our roads safer, we need to do more. We need all motorists to buckle up, drive at safe speeds, pay attention and not drive impaired.”

Alcohol was the top contributing factor in traffic fatalities in 2013 with 117 people losing their lives, down from 131 in 2012. Drinking and driving remains the leading cause of traffic deaths, responsible for one of every three traffic fatalities over the past decade.

There were 85 DWI (Drinking While Intoxicated) incidents in Brown County last year, down from 126 in 2012, 119 in 2011, 126 in 2010, 142 in 2009 and 149 in 2008.

Brown County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jason Seidl said the statistics show an overall statewide reduction in DWI incidents. “Hopefully, people are more responsible, using designated drivers and law enforcement efforts are paying off,” Seidl said.

Statewide, there were 25,317 incidents in 2013, down from 28,569 in 2012, 29,530 in 2011, 30,128 in 2010, 32,994 in 2009 and 35, 874 in 2008.

One of every seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI with a growing number of females getting arrested, according to the DPS.

Toward Zero Deaths (TZD), the state’s traffic safety initiative, was cited as helping significantly over the past 10 years with increased enforcement, educational efforts, media campaigns, road engineering enhancements and improved emergency medical and trauma response, according to the report.

Other factors were safer vehicles and legislation that improved driver behavior.

State seat belt use was a record high 94.8 percent last year, compared to 74 percent in June 1986, before the first safety belt law was implemented.

A breakdown of the state’s 387 state traffic deaths in 2013 included 269 motorists, 60 motorcyclists, 35 pedestrians, seven ATV (all-terrain riders), six bicyclists, five farm equipment occupants, two snowmobile riders and three in other vehicle types.

There were 357 fatal crashes last year, up from 349 in 2012 and 21,960 injury crashes, up from 20,972 the previous year. Of the 387 deaths in 2013, 275 (71 percent) occurred in 80 rural counties.

Of the 269 vehicle occupants killed last year in Minnesota, 94 were not buckled up. There were 874 vehicle occupants who suffered severe crash injuries last year, compared to more than 4,000 in 1987. Other leading contributing crash factors were driver inattention/distraction, failure to yield right-of-way and illegal/unsafe speed.

The 2013 state fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) remained low – 0.68 deaths, among the nation’s lowest. The VMT has decreased from 5.52 in 1966.

Motorcycle rider deaths rose from 55 in 2012 to 60 last year. The most common contributing factors were illegal or unsafe speed (17 percent), driver inexperience (12 percent) and driver inattention or distraction (10 percent).

Of the 35 pedestrian deaths in 2013, 31 were tested and 16 were found to have alcohol in their systems.

Failure to yield the right-of-way was the top bicycle death crash factor.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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