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A student actor in critical condition received the same treatment a real crash victim would during an April mock crash at Faribault High School. Pictured, members of the ambulance and fire rescue crews prepare the “victim” for airlift. (Daily News file photo)

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.

In 2018, Rice County had two fatal crashes that resulted in two deaths. That’s down from 2017, where the county saw four fatal crashes and four death.

Last year, 236 were injured in crashes in the county. The year prior, that number was 186. Another 482 crashes resulted in property damage.

While Rice County’s not yet at the zero fatalities it’s working toward, the number of traffic fatalities is lower than it was just a few years ago.

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.

Kathy Cooper, Rice County Safe Roads Coalition coordinator, and Sheriff Troy Dunn noted that while 2018 saw two fatalities on county roads, neither involved alcohol.

Cooper pointed out that there hasn’t been an alcohol-related fatality involving teens in Rice County for several years.

That’s pretty huge,” said Cooper, who’s teenage daughter, Meghan, was killed in a drunken-driving crash in 1999.

“The biggest thing is alcohol-related fatalities are trending down, though we still have a significant amount of serious-injury crashes,” Dunn said.

On Friday, David John Becher, 73, of Morristown, suffered life-threatening injuries and was airlifted to a metro hospital after his pickup was hit by a westbound semi on Hwy. 60 at Iona Avenue. The semi driver, from Faribault, was uninjured, according to a report from the Minnesota State Patrol.

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.

Both Cooper and Dunn continue to reinforce driver education and the importance of being responsible behind the wheel.

“Until we have that number (of fatalities) to zero,” said Dunn, “we can’t stop.”

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.

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