State officials say they have seen a troubling surge in traffic fatalities even though Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order last month targeting the coronavirus has sharply reduced travel by motorists across Minnesota.

There have been 24 fatal crashes in Minnesota since March 16, when Walz's initial imposition on commerce took effect, through Tuesday, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety.

For the same time period last year, the fatal crash total was 12, with 13 in 2018 and 16 in 2017.

State Patrol Lt. Gordon Shank said last week that troopers were noticing a surge in motorists going too fast all around the state as highways are seeing far less traffic than before Walz's order.

"Traffic may be reduced on Minnesota roads during this challenging time, but the number of road fatalities is rising," a statement from Traffic Safety officials said.

The 24 fatal crashes since Walz's order accounted for 28 deaths, the data further disclosed. That compares with 13 last year, 15 in 2018 and 17 in 2017.

Half of those 28 deaths were related to motorists who were speeding or to careless or negligent driving, according to the Traffic Safety office.

The office said traffic volumes remain significantly below levels from a year ago, given the governor's order.

As of late last week, traffic levels have been 34 to 55% lower every day since March 28, when the governor's stay-at-home order took effect, compared with the same dates in 2019, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

The metro area traffic level on Monday was 47% below the average for Mondays in April 2019, according to MnDOT. The reduction statewide came in at 50%.

"Reduced traffic on Minnesota roads does not give drivers a license to speed or drive aggressively," the statement from the Traffic Safety office said. "Let's make sure hospital beds are available for those dealing with COVID-19. Preventing critical injuries from a crash can help make that happen."

The recent climb in traffic deaths has pushed the total for the year more than 10% ahead of last year's number in the same time period. There are 76 traffic deaths this year vs. 69 at this time last year, state officials said.

More predictably, state records show that drunken-driving arrests have plummeted since Walz ordered restaurants and bars to shut down other than for carryout and delivery.

During the Saturday and Sunday before Walz's order kicked in, there were 323 drunken-driving arrests statewide. That compares with 126 over a four-day stretch (March 20-23) with the governor's order in force.

There were 94 drunken-driving arrests March 27-30 vs. 293 over the same weekend a year ago.

Staff writer Tim Harlow contributed to this report.