Pedestrian deaths this year in Minnesota have outpaced any other in recent history, making 2016 potentially one of the deadliest years for people on foot in a long time.
Thirty-four pedestrians had died after being struck by a motor vehicle on Minnesota roads as of September 22, compared with just 20 during the same period last year, according to preliminary statistics from the Department of Public Safety. That's more than any year dating back to at least 2005, and the fall and winter months to come are typically among the deadliest for pedestrians.
"Assuming that this pattern holds in 2016, DPS is predicting more pedestrian fatalities than in recent years," Dave Boxum, a spokesperson for the department, wrote in an e-mail.
“That’s very concerning," said Donna Berger, director of the office of traffic safety at the Department of Public Safety.
And the year isn't over yet. Between 2005 and 2015, there have been on average 12 pedestrian deaths in the last three months of the year.
By comparison, there have been seven bicycle fatalities in 2016 -- compared with eight at this time last year.
As with past years, pedestrian deaths describe more than someone in an urban crosswalk. Boxum noted that the numbers include some "unintentional pedestrians," such as the two men killed this month while inspecting vehicle damage near Pine City.
And Minnesota has historically had fewer deaths than other states. In 2013, the state had the second-lowest number of deaths per capita in the country, behind North Dakota, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
Crash data also shows that the number of people injured in pedestrian crashes has been rising very slightly in recent years in the metro area. The three-year average between 2010 and 2012 was 618, compared with about 659 in the last three years.
Berger said that crashes related to distracted driving, based on anecdotal evidence, are rising.
"I’m very concerned with what I’m seeing these days with things like the Pokemon, and the cell phones, and just the technology that’s built in the car,” she said.
She said the fact that trendlines in the bicycle and pedestrian data aren't dropping is a worrying trend in itself.
"We aren’t making progress in changing people’s behavior," Berger said. "Our point is we want to move toward zero deaths. One death is too many. No one should get that knock on the door.”
There is some good news, however, if you look way back in time. The number of pedestrian deaths averaged about 48.6 a year between 1995 and 2004, compared with 35.4 between 2005 and 2015.
That dip is even steeper when accounting for Minnesota's population growth of more than 884,000 over that 21-year period, as seen on the graph below.
Data Drop is a weekly feature that uses data analysis and visualizations to explain, surprise, inform and entertain readers on topics relevant to Minnesotans. Do you have an idea you'd like us to explore? Contact MaryJo Webster