It wasn’t long ago that Minnesota had some of the safest roads in the nation based on its low death rate per every million vehicle miles traveled. But not anymore.

In the three months since COVID-19 restrictions led to a dramatic decrease in travel, the number of crashes resulting in serious injuries and death have soared. Preliminary reports show speeding has contributed to 36 fatalities this year, compared with 27 at this time last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Citations for excessive speeding — drivers caught going 100 mph or faster — were up 149% in April and May, and law enforcement has reported increases in drivers running red lights and stop signs. A recent two-week distracted driving campaign resulted in tickets for 1,034 drivers, according to the DPS.

“We have found some ‘Minnesota Naughty’ with lane space to use and abuse,” said Mike Hanson of the DPS’ Office of Traffic Safety. “Minnesota had the second safest roads in the country the last year or two. Sorry, that is no longer the case based on what has happened over the last three months.”

Even before COVID, Minnesota had a speeding problem. A new report from CoPilot, a car-shopping app, looked at data from 2014 to 2018 to rank the states and counties with the most traffic fatalities related to speeding.

With nearly 26% of traffic fatalities involving speeding over the five-year period, Minnesota came in at No. 35 in the ranking of states with the most speeding-related fatalities as a share of all vehicle fatalities. New Hampshire had the highest percentage of speed-related fatalities and Florida had the lowest, according to the study that used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In Minnesota, Anoka County topped the list, with nearly 35% of all traffic fatalities in the north metro county being speed related, according to the report. Right behind was Dakota County at 33% followed by Hennepin at 32%, Carver at 31%, Ramsey at 30% and Stearns at 27%.

Hanson says numbers like those point to the need to clamp down on speeding. As part of its “Drive Smart” campaign to encourage motorists to make good choices behind the wheel, DPS is running a four-week speeding enforcement campaign through July 19. The agency is spending $526,000 in federal funds to cover overtime costs for officers.

Asked if Minnesota’s good driving conduct has declined, Hanson bluntly answered, “Yes.”

“People are pushing the envelope and taking liberties,” he said. “It’s not complete mayhem out there, but it’s definitely worse than in the past.”

New Rush Line BRT signs

Cyclists riding on the Bruce Vento Regional Trail may have spotted new signs telling them the property has been designated for Rush Line Bus Rapid Transit line that’s now in the planning stages.

But not to worry, the trail isn’t being sacrificed for the transit line that would run between Union Depot in St. Paul and downtown White Bear Lake starting in 2026. The trail will be rebuilt within Ramsey County’s right of way between Arcade Street and Buerkle Road.

The signs are meant to bring more awareness about the project and direct trail users to, where they can share feedback. The signs also include updated information for reporting trail maintenance issues.

Follow news about traffic and commuting at the Drive on Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.