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Minnesota Traffic Deaths Hit a 14-Year High in 2021

flowers tied to utility pole on roadsideIn 2021, 497 lost their lives in traffic crashes in Minnesota, which is a 14-year high for traffic deaths in the state.

The state saw an average of 378 traffic deaths per year between 2016 and 2020, which raises many questions: What happened? Why was last year so much deadlier on our state’s roads? 

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, speeding was the leading cause of traffic deaths last year, as it accounted for 162 deaths.

There were also 124 fatal crashes caused by alcohol use and 24 caused by distracted driving. There were also 109 motorists who were not wearing their seat belts when they suffered fatal injuries in traffic crashes.

Unfortunately, once the pandemic started, drivers seemed to believe the police were not enforcing traffic laws. This may have led to an increase in risky driving behaviors, according to Office of Traffic Safety Director Mike Hanson.

The increase in traffic fatalities in Minnesota is part of a larger increase in traffic deaths across the nation. There was a nearly 20 percent increase in traffic deaths between January and June of last year compared to the same period in 2020. More than 20,160 people were killed in traffic crashes on U.S. roads between January and June of 2021.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discovered average speeds went up in the last three quarters of 2020. Drivers traveling at extreme speeds – 20 miles per hour over the limit – also became more common. The number of motorists not wearing their seat belts also increased between March 2020 and June 2021.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is planning to roll out its first National Roadway Safety Strategy later this month. However, no matter what the national strategy is, Minnesota’s Office of Traffic Safety is planning to redouble its own efforts. Specifically, it plans to sharpen social media messages to speeders and those who do not wear seat belts.

Traffic safety advocate Sarah Risser wants the Minnesota Department of Transportation to put centerline rumble strips on more roads and install more roundabouts to make drivers slow down. She would also like to see some changes to the state legislature. For example, increasing fines for distracted driving and making the consequences for drunk driving offenses more meaningful.

“Government officials must seize the moment and move beyond the public message campaign,” said Risser.

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