MN traffic deaths reach high numbers

A study found that 2015 had a record number of traffic-related deaths.

Kristina Busch

Though the last year’s warm fall months encouraged more Minnesotans to go outside, the increase of bikers, pedestrians and motorcyclists led to a sharp increase in crashes.
Earlier this month, the Office of Traffic Safety, a division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, released crash report statistics that found 2015 had the highest number of traffic deaths in five years
Last year’s total fatalities are still being tallied but are so far only three deaths behind the 411 traffic deaths reported in 2010. 
As 2016 moves forward, the office will continue monitoring last year’s crashes for any more fatalities, OTS Director Donna Berger said. 
“If someone dies within 30 days of the accident, their death is still considered a traffic fatality,” she said. “Because people are often still injured from the previous year’s accidents, it could take until May to tally the final number.”
Berger said motorcyclist, bicyclist and pedestrian crashes last year increased from 2014, with pedestrian and bicyclist crashes at least doubling. 
Because the riding season for Minnesotans was much longer than previous years — from March to December — more drivers were on the road, she said. 
Kristine Hernandez, a statewide coordinator for traffic safety program “Toward Zero Deaths,” said lower gas prices also lead to an increase of total vehicle miles traveled for 2015. 
More people on the road ultimately leads to an increase in potential accidents, she said. 
But Berger said this trend would not be expected to continue into 2016 because total fatalities have steadily diminished since 2008. 
“There has been a 40 percent decrease in the past decade of total traffic fatalities,” Berger said. “This is just a bump in the road.”
Last year, half of the drivers killed were found not wearing a seatbelt, and drunk driving caused one in four fatalities. 
In order to encourage safe driving behavior, OTS funds campaigns like DWI enforcement and “Click It or Ticket,” Berger said. 
Last October, the “Click It or Ticket” campaign, which emphasizes seatbelt use, noted a 33 percent decrease in the number of seatbelt violations.
“People need to take personality responsibility for their behavior,” Berger said.  
University of Minnesota spokesman Tim Busse agreed, saying that it’s necessary for students to be aware of their surroundings. 
“There are 80,000 people on campus a day,” he said. “We need to watch out for each other in order to make this work.”
The University campus hasn’t had a reported traffic-related death in years, Busse said, and last year there were only 21 accidents on campus. 
These accidents had similar causes, like students not wearing reflective gear or distracted drivers, Busse said.
“Don’t assume drivers see you in the crosswalk,” Busse said. “Make eye contact with the driver to make sure they see you.”
But Hernandez said a culture shift is just as necessary as personal change. 
“When I speak to people, sometimes I’ll ask, ‘How many of you recycle?’” she said. “Everyone will raise their hand, but 15-20 years ago this wouldn’t be the case.”
Ninety-three percent of traffic-related deaths are caused by driver error, Hernandez said. Encouraging family and friends to perform safe driving behaviors is one of the ways to initiate a culture shift. 
“Changing culture, nationwide, is not a new thing, but it is for traffic safety,” she said.