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Fatal Minnesota vehicle crashes lowest in 70 years

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DULUTH, Minn. -- The number of people killed in crashes on Minnesota roads continues to fall, and last year reached its lowest point in nearly 70 years.

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The Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety on Wednesday issued its final report on 2011 traffic crashes in the state. In 2011, 368 people died in crashes on Minnesota roads, down about 10 percent from 2010 (411 fatalities) and down 44 percent since 2002 (657).

It's the fourth consecutive year of a decrease in traffic fatalities. Last year's toll on Minnesota roads was the lowest since 1944, when there were 356 fatalities.

Here's a look at some of the crash statistics from 2011:

- There were 72,117 traffic accidents in Minnesota. The most common factors in those crashes were, in order: driver inattention or distraction; failure to yield right-of-way; and unsafe speed.

- The 368 fatalities included 271 people in vehicles, 42 motorcyclists, 40 pedestrians, eight ATV riders, five bicyclists and two farm equipment users.

- In the Northland, there were 12 fatalities in St. Louis County, seven in Lake County, six each in Carlton and Pine counties, five in Itasca County, two in Aitkin County, one in Cook County and none in Koochiching County.

- Statewide, there were 20,295 injuries, of which 1,159 were classified as severe.

- Based on fatal crashes for which an exact time and day were known, the deadliest days -- in order from most to least -- were Saturday, Friday, Thursday and Tuesday (tie), Monday, Sunday and Wednesday. The deadliest hours were noon and 4 p.m.

- For all crashes, the hour and day with the most was 5 p.m. on Fridays.

- There were more traffic crashes in January than in any other month. But October, followed by July, had the most fatal crashes.

In a news release accompanying the 2011 crash statistics, DPS officials cited several factors for the continued decline in traffic fatalities over the years: fewer drunk drivers; improved highway design; better emergency medical response, especially in rural areas; better drivers; and perhaps most of all, increased seat belt use.

According to the DPS report, based on observation studies, seat belt use by front-seat occupants in Minnesota increased from 20 percent in June 1986 to 92.7 percent in August 2011.

Of the 271 vehicle occupants who died in crashes in Minnesota in 2011, only 126 were wearing seat belts. Of those who were not, 48 percent were ejected from their vehicle.

Of the 368 fatalities in Minnesota in 2011, 111 resulted from crashes in which the driver or pedestrians were legally drunk -- 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content or greater.

In 2011, 29,257 drivers were arrested for driving while impaired in Minnesota, a 2 percent decrease from 2010.

Want to look at the statistics for yourself? Find a link to the complete 2011 Minnesota crash report at duluthnewstribune.com.

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