Traffic deaths on state roads dropped by 11 percent last year, and the state highways were safer than they have been in 64 years, according to the final 2008 traffic crash report released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
In all, there were 455 traffic deaths on Minnesota roads in 2008, compared to 510 deaths in 2007.
While the state recorded 163 alcohol-related traffic deaths -- the lowest number ever -- alcohol-related crashes still accounted for 36 percent of all fatalities, according to the report.
Motorcycle deaths continued to rise, with 72 motorcyclist fatalities last year. That represented 16 percent of all traffic deaths and the biggest rider death count since 1985.
Fewer drivers age 16-19 died on the road. In 2008 there were 31 teen deaths, down from 41 in 2007. Authorities credit a new teen driver's licensing law, and a ban on texting and e-mailing while driving, for this drop.
Officials with the Department of Public Safety say an uptick in unemployment and high gas prices were two reasons for the low death count last year. Gas prices caused motorists to drive at slower, safer speeds, and unemployment rates likely factored in a slight but not significant drop in vehicle miles traveled, officials said.
Cheri Marti, the department's director of the Office of Traffic Safety, also said enhanced enforcement campaigns have been effective in targeting seat belt use, speeding and impaired driving.
"Minnesota can continue the positive trend of preventing traffic deaths, if all motorists continue to put their absolute focus toward driving and practice common-sense safety habits," Marti said in a statement.
The report also found:
- There were a total of 79,095 crashes and 33,379 injuries --- 1,553 were severe. The most common factors were driver inattention or distraction, failure to yield right-of-way, and illegal or unsafe speed;
- 13 bicyclists died on the road, the highest fatal count since 2000, when 14 were killed;
- 163 alcohol-related deaths occurred in 2008, an all-time low;
- Motorcycle deaths spiked 18 percent from 2007 to 2008, with 72 motorcyclists killed. It was the highest death count for motorcyclists in 24 years;
- 25 pedestrians died, down from 33 in 2007;
- Of the 325 vehicle occupants killed, 147 were wearing seat belts. More than half were not, and of those 64 percent were ejected.
You can see the complete Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts 2008 report, at the Department Public Safety's Web site. Click on "Crash Data and Reports."