Traffic deaths by the numbers

The Department of Public Safety is crediting the state’s primary seat belt law with having something to do with a drop in motor vehicle fatalities.

“There is no one factor but clearly a combination of those four-five factors have contributed to an environment where we’re killing less people than we have in the past,” state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion said, citing fewer people on the road (because of the economy), road improvements, more enforcement and driver education, as well as seat belt use.

The primary seat belt law was a contentious issue for years until the Legislature voted to allow police to stop drivers for not wearing a seat belt.

Its role in the reduction, though, is murky, and the statistics don’t clearly point to the seat belt law except in a somewhat speculative way. Through July of 2009, traffic deaths were actually higher than in 2008. The new seat belt law took effect on June 9. A ban on texting while driving signed in May 2008 might have had something to do with a reduction, too.

But much of the reduction can be pinned on a vehicle where seat belts aren’t much of an issue — motorcycles. 2008, by any measure, was one of the state’s worst years for motorcycle deaths. Seventy-two people were killed in 2008, 21 more than last year. That accounts for 2 percent of the state’s 8 percent reduction in traffic deaths in 2009.

  • Joanna

    stats on helmet use in motorcycle accidents/fatalities?

  • Al

    Part of this relates story relates to a News Cut discussion from last week about DWI laws, which included the comment:

    “There’s difficulty in crafting legislation on this because the tendency is to react to one story. Laws that are adopted on the basis of one incident carry with it the law of unintended consequences.”

    Apparently, the MN Public Safety Commisioner would disagree that this problem is a single incident, calling habitual DWI the ‘biggest problem’ as seen in this quote from the MPR story that aired this morning:

    “We think the implementation of ignition interlock is a very good public policy and focuses resources directly on the biggest problem that is habitual DWI offenders that are menaces on our highways,” Campion said. (Public Safety Commissioner)

    It’s difficult to see how considering tougher sentencing laws could be considered reacting to a single incident. There have been two fatal DWI crashes in MN in just the past couple of weeks. DWI is certainly not an uncommon occurence. I’d like to see tougher sentencing guidelines to bring the traffic death numbers down even further.