The holidays are here as are parties, and to that end, law enforcement is reminding motorists to wear their seat belts and arrange for a designated driver if drinking is involved.
Across the nation, the number of people who died in alcohol-related crashes jumped 4.6 percent last year when compared with 2011 numbers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agency said 10,322 people died in 2012 in crashes in which alcohol was a factor, up from 9,865 in the year before.
More than half of those deaths involved a driver with a blood-alcohol concentration of .15 percent or higher, nearly twice the legal limit of .08 percent.
In Minnesota, the number of alcohol-related fatalities jumped from 109 in 2011 to 114 in 2012 and accounted for 29 percent of highway deaths. The state recorded 395 traffic deaths last year.
"Thanksgiving begins a busy travel season and we need everyone's help to ensure our roads remain as safe as possible," said Lt. Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol. "Safe roads begin with safe decisions, especially planning ahead for a sober ride."
To combat drunken-driving crashes and deaths, law enforcement in Minnesota are stepping up DWI enforcement through end of December.
The data released in November also found that seat belt usage continues to be a problem. While the number of motorists who are buckling up has greatly improved over the past decade (Minnesota check in with a 94 percent compliance rate according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety), those who don't face a greater risk of dying in a crash.
More than half of the 33,561 people killed on the nation's roads were not wearing seat belts, according to NHTSA's analysis of 2012 crash data gathered from police accident reports and other sources. It also found that nearly two-thirds of motorists who were killed at night (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) were not wearing restraints.
The state's Office of Traffic Safety says that unbelted motorists who are involved in a crash result in about 150 deaths and more than 400 serious injuries annually.
NHTSA also found that the number of people who died in distraction-related crashed dipped slightly from 3,360 in 2011 to 3,328 last year. But it also showed a 9 percent increase in the number of injuries resulted from distraction-related crashes, 421,000 last year compared with 387,000 in 2011.
The nation saw increases in the number of pedestrians and motorcyclists for the third straight year and an overall increase in the number of people killed on the roads. The 33,561 deaths in 2012 were 1,082 more than in 2011. That marked the first year-over-year increase since 2005, NHTSA said.
This year is shaping up to be a better year. NHTSA In it's analysis of crash data for the first six months of 2013, the number of deaths were down more than 4 percent. More than 15,470 people died between January and June compared with the 16,150 fatalities reported in 2012. It didn't attribute a specific cause for the drop, but Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer miles during the first six months of the year.