The data currently show that 398 people lost their lives on Minnesota’s roads in 2015, although officials say the final number will likely climb to 405 after they complete their analysis.
Either of those numbers would mark 2015 as the deadliest year since 2010, when 411 people were killed in traffic accidents. In 2014, traffic-related fatalities in Minnesota numbered 361.
The new statistic for 2015 is “very unfortunate, and we’re very disappointed,” said Donna Berger, director of the Office of Traffic Safety, in a phone interview with MinnPost. “We had several years in a row when the numbers were under 400. We were trending downward. So it is concerning.”
All numbers up
Motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists all died in significantly higher numbers in Minnesota in 2015. Motorcyclist deaths climbed to 61, compared to 45 in 2014, while pedestrian deaths rose to 40, compared to 16 a year earlier. The number of bicyclists killed on Minnesota roads doubled to 10, from five in 2014.
The trend behind the pedestrian numbers is a bit deceiving, however, because pedestrian deaths had dropped to a six-year low in 2014. In other recent years, the number of pedestrians killed in Minnesota has numbered in the 30s or 40s.
Annual motorcycle deaths also tend to fluctuate within a 40-to-60 range, depending, in part, on how long the motorcycle season is, said Berger. The longer the season, the greater the number of days motorcyclists are on the state’s roads — and thus the higher the risk of getting killed.
“Last year we did have an early spring, and the riding season was pretty late,” said Berger.
Key factors behind Minnesota’s deadly crashes were speed and distracted driving, both of which were involved in 20 percent of the fatalities in 2015, according to the released data. Drunk driving was a factor in 25 percent of the deaths.
Half of the people who were killed in cars were not wearing their seat belts, and about half of those who died in motorcycle accidents were not wearing helmets, said Berger.
“Our goal is always zero traffic deaths,” Berger stressed. “We’re working with enforcement and education. We’re just trying to educate the public to focus on that drive every time and not multitask behind the wheel.”
“It’s the same four things,” she added. “Drive at safe speeds. Don’t drive impaired. Don’t drive distracted. And always buckle that seat belt.”