Retail sales of gasoline in July down from '07

In an effort to promote use of ethanol-based E85 by motorists, the American Lung Association of Minnesota is pointing out that retail sales of gasoline in July 2008 declined more than 9 percent in Minnesota from the same month a year ago.

According to figures from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, motorists bought nearly 212 million gallons of gasoline in July, compared with slightly more than 233 million gallons last July.

The association also noted that the amount of E85 used is about 16 percent greater in 2008 than it was at this time last year. However, the pace of the increase in Minnesota appears to be leveling off. E85 sales more than doubled from 2005 to 2006 and increased by only 20 percent in 2007.

E85 is for flex-fuel vehicles that can use either E85 or gasoline. The Lung Association said there are about 200,000 flex-fuel vehicles in the state.

"A year ago, I don't think anyone would have predicted Minnesota could achieve ... increased use of mass transit and increased sales of cleaner-burning alternative fuels in the middle of what has historically been the peak driving season," said Robert Moffitt, the association's communications director. "Since vehicle exhaust is the single largest source of air pollution in Minnesota, the positive impact of these three elements coming together can't help but improve air quality this summer."

There are about 350 stations in Minnesota currently selling E85.

PAUL WALSH

Minnesota moving to flat license plates

Embossed license plates in Minnesota eventually will be a thing of the past as the state moves to a flat plate design that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said will make them less expensive to produce and easier to read.

The first flat plates went on sale in April, and the state is in the process of converting all 158 styles of license plates to what it is calling "digital license plates."

The new plates feature black lettering and a bar code that can be scanned. The plates will be printed on lighter and thinner aluminum, which should save on postage costs, the Department of Public Safety said.

The first flat plates include the "Loon Critical Habitat" and "Support Our Troops," along with special plates for the state's sesquicentennial that became available this month.

TIM HARLOW

Number of crash victims up in '07

The number of people killed on Minnesota roads rose slightly in 2007, with 510 fatalities reported last year. That's up from 494 reported in 2006, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said Tuesday.

The 3 percent increase was partially attributed to the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge on Aug. 1, 2007. Twelve of the 13 deaths that resulted from the collapse of the downtown Minneapolis bridge were classified as traffic fatalities, the Department of Public Safety said in its analysis of 2007 motor vehicle crashes and deaths.

In its "Crash Facts 2007" report, the department looked at more than 81,000 crashes that included 510 deaths and 36,000 injuries.

Of the fatalities, 399 were motorists, 61 motorcyclists, 33 pedestrians, four bicyclists and four all-terrain vehicle riders, three snowmobilers, three who were operating farm equipment and three listed as "other."

TIM HARLOW