The death toll on Minnesota roads declined in 2013, and the number of motorists busted for drunken driving showed an even steeper drop, traffic officials said Thursday.
The decline resumes the downward slope in traffic fatalities that was briefly interrupted in 2012.
According to preliminary reports from the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Traffic Safety, there were 375 traffic fatalities in 2013, down from 395 in 2012.
When a final 2013 tally is confirmed in a few months, the state projects the number of deaths will be roughly 385.
That is a notable decline from a decade ago. In 2004, 567 people were killed in Minnesota traffic incidents. The annual total declined every year from then until 2012.
“Despite last year’s dip in traffic fatalities, these numbers still reflect far too many victims who have lost their lives on our roads,” Donna Berger, the Office of Traffic Safety director, said in a statement accompanying the latest figures. “We continue to encourage all drivers to make good decisions about driving sober, buckling up, slowing down and eliminating distractions.”
The preliminary 2013 traffic death count (with 2012 totals in parentheses) breaks down to:
• 278 in vehicles (293)
• 60 on motorcycles (55)
• 31 pedestrians (40)
• 6 on bicycles (7)
The deadliest months in 2013 were July (52), September (50) and November (38). The fewest fatalities occurred in January (16), March (22) and December (22).
Ten Minnesota counties have yet to report a traffic fatality in 2013, the state data showed. They are among the state’s most sparsely populated.
DWI arrests way down
Preliminary reports released Thursday also showed that 23,800 arrests were made last year in the state for drunken driving, compared with 28,418 in 2012.
“I was surprised at the big difference,” said Jody Oscarson, coordinator of impaired-driving projects for the Office of Traffic Safety.
Even when the final tally comes in months from now, Oscarson added, she expects a year-over-year decline of about 2,000. “Typically, we’ve been going down about 1,000 offenses a year,” she said.
Oscarson said “we can’t really put our finger on any single factor” to explain the sharper drop in drunken-driving arrests. She attributed the change to stricter enforcement, efforts to educate motorists and the state’s ignition lock system for some drivers, which prevents them from getting behind the wheel again while intoxicated.
A run of arrests to end the year
A substantial number of drunken-driving arrests in 2013 came in the final weeks during an enhanced enforcement campaign by law enforcement agencies across the state. From Nov. 27 to Dec. 31, there were 2,453 drunken-driving arrests.
“The number of arrests made last month shows that too many of our drivers still make poor choices about drinking and driving,” Berger said.
The highest blood-alcohol reading detected last month was 0.34 percent. The legal limit for driving in Minnesota is 0.08 percent. Hennepin County officials allege that Nathan E. Billups, 28, of St. Paul, hit the highest level of intoxication New Year’s Eve after his car struck another vehicle from behind near Interstate 94 and W. Broadway in Minneapolis.
Billups has a 2010 drunken-driving conviction and a pending DWI case in Goodhue County from an arrest in November 2013. He was driving on a revoked license, according to the criminal complaint.