Traffic deaths fall below 400 in 2011
WORTHINGTON -- According to preliminary reports from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety, traffic deaths claimed the lives of 349 people in 2011, a figure that represents a 38 percent reduction in deaths since 2001.
The DPS projects the final total to be about 11 percent below the 2010 figure of 411 and the lowest since 1944.
Since 2000, the state's annual traffic deaths have trended downward.
DPS officials note positive driver behavior is propelling the progress -- seatbelt compliance is at a record high of 93 percent, while alcohol-related fatalities, crashes and driving while impaired (DWI) arrests continue to drop.
In Cottonwood County, three fatalities were reported in 2011, up from the zero deaths reported in 2010 and 2009. Jackson County went from six fatalities in 2009 to four in 2010 and one in 2011. Murray County had zero fatalities in 2009, one in 2010 and one in 2011.
Nobles County fatality figures are also coming down, with seven in 2009, five in 2010 and three in 2011.
Pipestone County had two deaths in 2011, down from the three in 2010 and equal to the two in 2009; while Rock County reported three traffic fatalities in 2011, down from four in 2010 and up from the one reported in 2009.
Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening believes there are several reasons for the declining numbers for fatal crashes, but the biggest, he said, is probably the extra patrols.
"The seatbelt and DWI campaigns through Safe & Sober means we can put more patrols out and get reimbursed by the state," Wilkening explained. "All of the education out there helps, too."
With the seatbelt legislation that gave law enforcement officials the authority to pull someone over for not buckling up, officers are seeing more people belted and less who are not.
"The majority of fatal crashes we've had the in last few years are non-belted people," Wilkening said. "I think when you combine the seatbelts, the extra patrols and the education, it helps save lives."
Even the automobile industry's push to build safer vehicles is a contributing factor, Wilkening said.
"The newer vehicles have front and side airbags and offer more protection," he added.
The DWI arrest numbers aren't following such a steady downward trend as the fatalities, according to DPS statistics.
Preliminary reports show there were 57 DWI arrests in Cottonwood County in 2010, 53 in 2011. In the last 10 years, those numbers have ranged from 41 to 75 arrests per year.
Jackson County's DWI arrest numbers were as high as 97 in 2007, and at 43 in 2003. For 2011, records are showing 53 DWI arrests.
Murray County, whose highest DWI arrest number in the past decade was 41 in 2002, is at 15 for 2011, down slightly from the 19 DWI arrests in 2010.
Preliminary figures in Nobles County show DWI arrests at 97 for 2011, down significantly from the 149 arrests in 2010.
Pipestone County's numbers stayed steady, with 42 in 2011 and 45 in 2010. Rock County's jumped slightly, from 36 in 2010 to 47 in 2011.
In the state of Minnesota, there were 24,671 DWI arrests in 2011 -- a number that could possibly grow as the alcohol-concentration data is finalized.
DPS officials say stronger DWI sanctions, effective since July 2011, will support a trend of few alcohol-related incidents in 2012.
The new sanctions apply to all repeat DWI offenders and first-time offenders with a .16 percent or higher blood alcohol concentration.
Under the new sanctions, offenders must use ignition interlock for at least one year or face a year without driving privileges.
In recent years, approximately 40 percent of the DWI arrests were recidivists, About half of those arrested for a second DWI go on to incur a third, and about half of those go on to incur a fourth, numbers show.