After more than doubling in 2012, traffic deaths in Anoka County have receded this year, standing at 13 as of last week, compared with 25 for all of 2012.
In 2012, Anoka had the largest rate of increase among the seven metro-area counties: a 127 percent jump from 11 fatalities in 2011. The county had more fatalities than all but one other in the metro. Hennepin County, with three times the population, had 33, a decline of 12 from 2011, according to state Department of Public Safety records.
Anoka’s spike was part of state and national increases as the economy improved and more miles were driven. Public safety officials also said a rise in motorcycle deaths, many of older riders, and a mild winter in 2012 contributed to the state’s 7.3 percent increase to 395 fatalities, the first uptick since 2007.
Besides pointing to some of the typical causes of crashes — speeding, distracted driving and lack of seat belt use — state officials note that Anoka County historically has exceeded the state average of one in three fatalities being alcohol- or drug-related.
In 2012, 13 of Anoka’s 25 fatals involved alcohol or drugs, said Jon Walseth, a research analyst with the state Office of Traffic Safety. He provided statistics showing impaired driving deaths averaged 42 percent of fatalities since 2008 in Anoka County. No impaired driving data are yet available for 2013,
The Anoka County Sheriff and many city police agencies in the county have been part of the state’s 10-year-old Toward Zero Deaths traffic program, which includes well-publicized enforcement efforts.
“We do saturation patrols for DWI, and general traffic violations for speeding, semaphore violations, distracted driving and seat belt enforcement,” said Paul Sommer, Sheriff’s Office spokesman. The crackdowns are publicized ahead of time on electronic freeway billboards as a deterrent and education tool, he added.
“State and local agencies are doing all they can in public education and enforcement. In the end it is up to the decisions of individual drivers. They have to take responsibility and ownership for their actions,” Sommer said. “I don’t know if there necessarily is a correlation between fatal accidents and enforcement efforts.”
Walseth said declining fatalities since Toward Zero Deaths was launched indicate its worth. Minnesota fatalities plummeted from 655 in 2003 to 368 in 2011, before the uptick last year. In the same period, traffic deaths of teenagers — a major focus for education — dropped from about 75 to 40 a year. Walseth said more restrictive state laws for teenage drivers also have helped.
He said preliminary data through last week showed Minnesota has had 300 traffic fatalities in 2013, about the same as a year ago. If that trend continues, fatalities will recede by 10 to 385 by year’s end, he said. Of the 300 road deaths so far this year, 57, or about 20 percent, were motorcycle riders. That exceeds the 55 riders killed in all of 2012.