DPS releases 2011 traffic crash report

368 killed is lowest annual figure since 1944

ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office recently released a report showing that 2011 had the lowest number of traffic deaths since 1944.

In 2011 there were 368 traffic deaths on Minnesota roads, which represents a fourth consecutive annual drop in road fatalities and the lowest death count on record since 1944 when 356 were killed. The deaths include 120 unbelted motorists and 111 alcohol-impaired crash victims.

Some key facts from the 2011 report include:

* The state’s 2011 fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is less than one person (0.65, the state’s record low). The U.S. fatality rate is 1.09. In 2009, (most recent national data), Minnesota was third behind Massachusetts and Connecticut for the lowest fatality rate in the U.S.

* There were 56.7 billion vehicle miles traveled in Minnesota last year, less than 1 percent lower than the 56.8 billion in 2010.

* The 368 deaths also marks a 44 percent decrease from 10 years ago: 2002: 657 deaths; 2003: 655; 2004: 567; 2005: 559; 2006: 494; 2007: 510; 2008: 455; 2009: 421; 2010: 411.

To-date in 2012, there has been 120 road deaths compared to 115 deaths at this time in 2011.

"Minnesota motorists have done a lot to improve road safety by practicing safe driving behaviors, but there are still far too many families and communities that have been torn apart by these preventable tragedies," DPS Commissioner Mona Dohman said. "We remember the lives that were lost on our roads as we continue our drive toward the goal of zero deaths."

DPS officials report there are several factors that have contributed to the fewer deaths that seems to be a trend.

DPS traffic safety officials say smarter, safer driving is a critical factor for the continuing decline in road deaths. Seat belt compliance is at a record high, and alcohol-impaired crashes have dropped in recent years. DWIs arrests have also fallen, indicating that more drivers are thinking twice about drinking and driving.

Proactive campaigns anchored in the state’s cornerstone traffic safety initiative, Toward Zero Deaths have also helped. The TZD model employs increased enforcement targeting seatbelt use, speeding and impaired driving; paid media and outreach efforts to educate communities; MnDOT engineering enhancements; and improved emergency medical and trauma response that increase the chances of survival for crash victims, especially in rural communities.

Important legislation has also factored, including the ban on texting, emailing, web access and the primary seat belt law and booster seat law requirement for children.

Crash Facts 2011 details crashes by vehicle type, contributing factors, driver age and gender, and occurrence of crashes by county, as well as cities with populations of 2,500 or more.

Highlights from the Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts 2011 include:

* 72,117 crashes.

* The most common factors in 2011 all crashes are in order of frequency: driver inattention/distraction; failure to yield right-of-way and illegal or unsafe speed.

* 368 fatalities involve motorists (271); motorcyclists (42); pedestrians (40); bicyclists (5); ATV riders (8); and farm equipment occupants (2).

* 30,295 injuries, of which 1,159 were severe, life-altering injuries.

* 261 deaths (71 percent) occurred in the 80 counties of greater Minnesota, while 107 deaths (29 percent) occurred in the Twin Cities’ seven-county metro area.

* Driver-distraction related crashes resulted in 72 deaths.

* Speed-related crashes resulted in 83 deaths.

* Of the 271 vehicle occupants killed, just 126 were belted; 48 percent of those not belted were ejected. Officials say the primary belt law has helped to increase belt compliance, resulting in fewer unbelted traffic deaths. Officials say it is critical for motorists to insist every passenger is belted.

* Alcohol-impaired crash deaths resulted in 111 deaths, down from 121 in 2010. Last year, 29,257 motorists were arrested for DWI, a 2 percent decrease from 2010 (29,918). One in seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI.

* There were 42 rider deaths, down slightly from 45 in 2010. Motorcycle riders ages 40-64 accounted for 64 percent of motorcycle rider deaths in 2011. Rider deaths, however, are spiking in 2012 – 15 to-date, compared to eight at this time in 2011. DPS reports ridership is at an all-time high, underscoring the need for rider training, protective gear use and for motorists to pay attention and look twice for riders.

* There were 39 teenage deaths (ages 13-19) in 2011, a decrease from 47 deaths in 2010 – and down 48 percent from 75 teen deaths five years ago (2006). Teen drivers (16-19) were involved in 47 fatal crashes, resulting in 53 deaths. Officials encourage parents to discuss and reinforce laws with teens, and continue to monitor and provide supervised training for their teen in a variety of conditions and road types, especially during the first year of licensure.

* There were 40 pedestrian deaths in 2011, up from 36 in 2010. Of the 33 killed pedestrians tested for alcohol, 27 percent had alcohol-concentration levels of 0.08 or higher. Of the pedestrians killed or injured, 24 percent were crossing illegally. Officials say pedestrians need to cross where it’s safe and that motorists must pay attention for and stop for crossing pedestrians at both marked and unmarked crosswalks, unless signals communicate otherwise.

* There were five bicyclist deaths in 2011 and none were wearing helmets. There were nine rider deaths in 2010. Officials say bicyclists should plan a safe route, wear a helmet, reflective gear, and obey traffic signals and signs.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) designs, implements, and coordinates federally funded traffic safety enforcement and education programs to improve driver behaviors and reduce the deaths and serious injuries that occur on Minnesota roads.

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