The new year is off to a deadly start with 31 traffic fatalities through Feb. 12, a jump of 10 over a year ago, state officials said Sunday.
Primary culprits behind the preliminary data released by the state Office of Traffic Safety are the lack of seat-belt use in 12 of the 31 road deaths, and another seven deaths linked to speeding.
Four other crashes were attributed to alcohol use, said Dawn Duffy, spokeswoman for the state Public Safety Department.
Although adverse weather conditions were cited only in four crashes, “The weather magnifies the need to wear seat belts and drive at safe speeds regardless of conditions,” said Lt. Eric Roeske, State Patrol spokesman.
“It’s a significant increase from last year,” he said, “but some very simple behaviors can reverse that trend: Wearing seat belts, slowing down and not drinking and driving are still the primary factors we see in common in fatal crashes that are investigated.”
Roeske said the increase of 10 fatal crashes so far this year is a concern, especially since the 21 fatalities in the same period of 2013 was a jump from 2012. However, safer driving behavior can improve results, he said, noting that the 385 deaths estimated for 2013 will be down from 395 in 2012.
Fatality data from 2013 are still being collected from law enforcement agencies, and 378 traffic deaths have been reported so far, Duffy said.
As of Sunday afternoon, the most recent fatalities reported by the patrol involved two crashes Saturday. One involved a 22-year-old driver who was suspected of using alcohol and went off the road in New Ulm. A belted, 27-year-old passenger was killed after the vehicle rolled and hit a light post.
The other fatality involved a 60-year-old driver who wore a seat belt and appeared to have suffered a medical problem before he went off the road near Grand Rapids.