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Minnesota officials alarmed by increase in pedestrian fatalities

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Crosswalk on a busy street
A crosswalk at the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.
Tim Post | MPR 2008

Authorities say Minnesota has seen an alarming number of pedestrian fatalities to start the year.

The Department of Public Safety said that, going into this weekend, 10 pedestrians had been killed in traffic incidents statewide in 2019. That compares to three at the same time last year.

"It's definitely on our radar screen and we're trying to see what's going on," said Mike Hanson, director of the state Office of Traffic Safety.

Hanson said that while some cases are still under investigation, a few common factors repeatedly appear in fatal crashes.

"It comes down to distraction and to being situationally aware... both for drivers of motor vehicles and also for the pedestrians themselves," he said. "The drivers need to be able to see the pedestrians and pedestrians need to make sure they're being seen. ...

"Drivers need to be aware that we have more pedestrians out and about 12 months out of the year now than we ever have. ... It's a matter of being respectful of all road users, and for all of us to make good decisions and to pay attention to what we're doing whether we're walking, whether we're driving or whether we're riding."

Hanson said extra attention is needed during winter months, when days are shorter and snow banks along streets can limit visibility for both drivers and pedestrians.

He said pedestrians can improve their safety by wearing bright clothing and limiting the use of headphones so they can hear approaching traffic. And Hanson said drivers should "treat every corner as if it was a crosswalk. Make sure that you yield to every pedestrian, every time — Minnesota law requires that you do that."

Hanson said his office is applying for a new federal grant to improve pedestrian safety statewide.

The number of traffic fatalities overall in Minnesota also is running ahead of 2018's pace. Hanson said there are four main factors seen repeatedly in fatal crashes: impaired driving, driving too fast for conditions, distracted driving and not wearing a seat belt.