Traffic fatalities in Minnesota are declining at a rate that puts state officials tantalizingly close to reaching a key goal several years earlier than anticipated.

So far this year, there have been 303 traffic deaths in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) said Tuesday. That's down from 357 at this point last year.

The department's Office of Traffic Safety is projecting a final tally of 355 for 2011, meaning a fourth consecutive annual decline and a 38 percent reduction from a decade ago.

Should that projection prove a bit high, state officials note, Minnesota could achieve its 2014 goal of limiting deaths to 350 three years early.

"Fewer people are getting killed, more motorists are buckling up, and there is a drop in alcohol-related incidents," Donna Berger, acting director of Office of Traffic Safety, said in a statement accompanying the latest data. "But this progress is lost on the fact that preventable crashes are killing hundreds of people annually."

Officials cite many factors for the declining number of deaths, such as targeted enforcement, publicity campaigns, improved road engineering and emergency medical response, driver behavior, safer vehicles and the overall economic slowdown reducing miles driven.