ST. PAUL -- At the current pace, Minnesota will record one of its deadliest traffic years in two decades, perhaps cracking 700 fatalities for the first time since 1981.
As of Wednesday, 585 traffic fatalities were reported to the Department of Public Safety, about 40 more than the same point in 1999. Agency officials say they would not be surprised if the final 2000 tally tops 700.
"All year we've been outpacing 1999 for traffic fatalities and the year's not over," said Kathy Swanson, director of the Office of Traffic Safety.
Another 42 traffic fatalities would put Minnesota past the 626 it had in 1999. The state's death toll has remained below 700 since there were 763 people killed on Minnesota roads in 1981.
Prior to 1981, it wasn't unusual to see 800, or even 1,000, fatalities a year because of car designs with fewer safety features and less cautious driving habits. But since then, the average has been 587.
Final numbers aren't due out until early next year because anybody who is injured in a crash through Dec. 31 and dies within 30 days would be added to the 2000 figures, Swanson said.
Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver attributes the rise to a number of factors: "People are driving really fast, they're not wearing their seat belt and they're drinking."
Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the high fatality rate is a convincing argument for more money to train new recruits for the Minnesota State Patrol. Budget problems have forced Weaver's agency to cut back on trooper training academies, which has decreased the likelihood vacancies will be filled promptly.
"For no other reason there needs to be a greater presence of troopers on Minnesota highways," said Johnson, who heads the Senate Transportation Budget Division. "And it won't happen unless we have the trooper training school"
Minnesota ranks 45th in the country when it comes to troopers per capita, Weaver said.
Most fatalities involved people in passenger cars or trucks, but officials have documented increases for other modes of transportation as well.
The number of motorcyclists killed in 2000 is at 36, up from 29 for all of 1999. Thirteen bicycle-related fatalities have been recorded so far, compared to seven at this time last year and eight overall.
Fewer pedestrians have been killed to date, 34 compared to 46 last year. At year's end in 1999, 51 pedestrians had died.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.