ST. PAUL — Traffic deaths in Minnesota increased 6% last year, but continue a downward trend over a five-year period, according to a state report released Thursday.
Overall, 381 deaths were among the 79,215 reported crashes in 2018, with speed being the top factor in 113 of those deaths, the state report Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts said. Failing to buckle up resulted in 96 deaths, while 84 deaths were tied to impaired driving and 29 to distractions. Fifty-eight of those killed were on a motorcycle while 45 were pedestrians.
For the second year in a row, there were no fatal crashes in Rice County, though the number injured in vehicular crashes rose from 2017 to 2018. Last year, 65 were injured in crashes in the county. The year prior, that number was 41. Another 105 crashes resulted in property damage.
The numbers are the result of a lot of hard work by law enforcement and dedicated volunteers, notably Lonsdale’s Nancy Johnson and Kathy Cooper, of Northfield. Both became advocates after losing daughters in drunken-driving crashes. Cooper, now coordinator of the county’s Safe Roads Coalition, credits Johnson and the Fette family of Faribault, whose 16-year-old son Greg was killed by a drunken driver in 1984 with pushing for stronger traffic safety laws.
“Those two families, I always say they stormed the state of Minnesota and created many of the programs we have today,” Cooper said earlier this year.
From 2002-06 and from 2008-11, Rice County was considered one of the 13 deadliest in the state. Following the designation, law enforcement from across the county ,along with representatives from Public Health and the County Attorney’s Office, helped develop and implement programs, including a sober cab, mock crashes at the high schools, a joy ride bus for Northfield’s Defeat of Jesse James Days and collaborations with St. Olaf College students.
Cooper and Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn says they made a real and important difference.
“It’s a community effort to have everybody on board, not just locally, but regionally and statewide,” Dunn said this spring.
In 2000, there were 20 deaths on Rice County roads. Of those, 12 were caused by impaired driving. There were six traffic fatalities in Rice County in 2016, four of those were alcohol-related.
“I think Rice County has been very, very committed in so many ways on working on impaired driving,” said Cooper. “It takes a lot to change the norms.”
So far in 2019, 223 deaths have been reported statewide, compared to 218 at this time a year ago.
From 2009-13, Minnesota saw an average of 396 deaths per year. The last five years had had an average of 381, a 4% decrease, according to state statistics.
“Our goal is to drive Minnesota traffic deaths to zero,” said Mike Hanson, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety director. “We can’t reach that goal through enforcement alone. We need the help of every driver and everyone on the road. We are losing too many of our friends and family members to completely preventable events. Help drive the traffic fatalities down by doing your part. That means always buckling up, driving hands-free and putting the distractions away, always lining up a sober ride and driving the speed limit or according to the conditions of the road.”
Forum News Service contributed to this report.