ST. PAUL (AP) — Drivers on Minnesota roads are buckling up more, leading to fewer serious injuries in traffic accidents, a state report says.
The annual report by the Department of Public Safety says that in 1997 — for the first time — fewer than 3,000 people were severely injured in traffic accidents. Officials attributed that to increased use of seat belts and shoulder straps.
In addition, a record low number of alcohol-related traffic deaths was reported last year.
Public Safety Commissioner Donald Davis called the statistical events milestones for traffic safety. He said achieving them shows that “pressing social issues can be identified, attacked and lessened through intentional effort.”
Six hundred people were killed and 46,064 were injured in 98,625 accidents in 1997. Alan Rodgers, who compiles the annual report, said the numbers are near the averages of recent decades.
He said 178 people, about 30 percent of the total, were killed in alcohol-related accidents. He called that a remarkable level to reach in light of previous years’ studies that showed that number at 50 percent.
The number of alcohol-related deaths started to decline in the early 1980s when Mothers Against Drunk Driving was established and social attitudes toward drunken driving began to change, Rodgers said.
In the past, the peak time for fatal accidents was between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., after the bars closed, Rodgers said. Now the prime time for all accidents, including fatal ones, is the afternoon rush hour.
The number of severe injuries — those that are likely to be life-altering, such as brain damage — has steadily declined from the late 1980s as more and more people began to use restraints in their vehicles, Rodgers said.
A mid-1997 survey showed 65 percent of metropolitan-area drivers and 59 percent of drivers outside the metro area were using seat belts.
Last year, law enforcement officers listed 2,964 people as severely injured in traffic accidents. That compares with 5,109 in 1984, the first year the statistic was taken.
“This is important. These are not just numbers. It is real life. People who might have been hurt are not,” Rodgers said.
Davis said when he first saw the numbers he was surprised because he knows there are more drivers on the roads, more vehicles, and people are driving farther.
“You’d think the death and injury numbers would go up, but they are not. That’s impressive,” he said.
The state’s fatality rate per million miles driven — a standard measurement of highway safety — was 1.28 last year compared with the state’s all-time high of 23.6 in 1934.