MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota authorities had feared that more people would die in car crashes in 2003 than in any of the past 22 years.
According to the recent numbers, that prediction might come true.
The number of fatalities this year rose to 200 after a weekend crash in Isanti County that killed three people. Despite this week's national seat-belt advertising and enforcement campaign leading up to the Memorial Day weekend, the number of fatal accidents in Minnesota is expected to keep growing.
"There is no more Minnesota Nice when it comes to the roads," said Kathy Swanson, traffic safety director for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. "There is an increasing sense of, 'These are my roads and everyone else is just in my way."'
Last year, 657 people were killed on Minnesota roads, up from 568 in 2001. The 200 fatalities at the start of this week mark a 13 percent increase above the 177 who were killed at this time last year. In 1968, Minnesota's record year, 1,060 were killed in auto accidents.
Several factors are driving the jump in fatalities.
Many motorists are preoccupied with cell phones, CD players, children in the back seat and road maps as they drive. And the increase of highway speed limits in recent years has increased the difficulty in reacting to crises and made fatalities more likely, Swanson said.
"Even if I'm the best driver in the world, if I don't know what's going on 12 seconds in front of me, I can become part of that," said Capt. Ken Smith, commander of the State Patrol's west metropolitan district.
The road construction season may be a blessing, with warning signs to slow drivers, he said.
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