It was a safe 2014 on Minnesota roads. The state is expected to record the second-fewest traffic-related deaths since World War II.

Preliminary data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety indicate that 356 people died in traffic crashes last year, equal to the all-time low of 356 recorded in 1944.

When final numbers for the year are in, the number of fatalities likely will be around 370, the department predicts. That would be the second-fewest in state history.

This continues a downward trend that over the past decade has seen the annual number of traffic deaths fall from 655 in 2003 to 387 in 2013.

The number of pedestrian fatalities also fell to a 30-year low of 17. The preliminary numbers show that five bicyclists and 45 motorcyclists were killed, also down from the previous year.

Driver distraction and speeding were among the leading causes of highway crashes.

Alcohol is the leading factor in fatal crashes, with 1 in 5 traffic deaths attributed to drunken driving, department officials said.

While seat-belt usage is at nearly 95 percent statewide, more than half of the motorists or their passengers killed last year in Minnesota were not wearing them at the time.

Authorities are pleased with the low fatality numbers, but they're not satisfied.

"The pain and suffering of even one family is too much," said Donna Berger, director of the Office of Traffic Safety.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768