Traffic fatalities in Minn. at lowest numbers since 1944

By Rupa Shenoy, MInnesota Public Radio

St. Paul, MInn -- Better traffic enforcement, education, and engineering have led to the lowest number of deaths on the roads last year since 1944, the State Department of Public Safety says.

Preliminary reports show 349 people died in traffic accidents last year, the department says. Officials expect the final figures will show 11 percent fewer deaths than those in 2010 and 38 percent fewer deaths than in 2001.

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Traffic deaths had increased every year until 2001, said Donna Burger, DPS director of traffic safety.

"Since that time we took on an initiative called Toward Zero Deaths. It's a collaboration with Minnesota Department of Transportation and Minnesota Department of Health — so it's education, enforcement, EMS and engineering all working together," Burger said.

That comprehensive approach, as well as faster emergency response and safer cars, eventually brought the number of traffic deaths down, Burger said.

Around 80 percent of traffic deaths in 2011 were motorists and 11 percent were motorcyclists. Thirty-two pedestrians and four bicyclists also died.

Burger says there were nearly 25,000 drunk driving arrests in 2011, down more than 5,200 from the year before. She says the number of fatalities related to drunk driving isn't yet available.

The statistics also showed the safest months on Minnesota roads in 2011 were January, March and April. The greatest number of people died in October, July and August of that year.