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Death toll from crashes rises in Douglas County

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For the first time in five years, the number of traffic deaths increased in Minnesota.

Crashes killed 378 people in the state in 2012, according to preliminary reports from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

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In 2011, 368 people died in crashes on Minnesota roads.

2012 was also a deadly year for crashes in Douglas County. Seven people were killed - the most in four years.

Here are Douglas County's crash fatalities over the last seven years: 2006 - eight, 2007 - nine, 2008 - nine, 2009 - four, 2010 - four, 2011 - one, 2012 - seven.

Alcohol played a role in many of the fatalities. Between 2007 and 2011, five lives were lost in alcohol-related crashes in Douglas County, according to the DPS.

Statewide, DPS projects the final 2012 traffic death total, which will be available in early summer as additional crash reports are submitted, to be around 390, 6 percent above the 2011 figure.

Despite the increase, 2012 will be the second safest year (behind 2011) since 1944 (356 deaths).

Officials expect common traffic safety issues will again be the primary contributing factors for the 2012 deaths. This includes drunk driving, seat belt non-use, speeding and distracted driving.

Traffic safety officials say a warmer winter to start the year - leading to faster, unsafe speeds - and a spike in motorcyclist fatalities were the main factors for the increase in deaths. An early spring led to a longer and deadlier riding season as 53 motorcyclists were killed, a 26 percent increase from 42 deaths in 2011.

"We can't forget the victims lost in these crashes. They are the reasons and reminders we all need to commit to safe driving behaviors in 2013," said Donna Berger, DPS Office of Traffic Safety director.

In the last decade, the state's annual traffic deaths have trended downward: in 2002 there were 657 deaths; 2003 - 655; 2004 - 567; 2005 - 559; 2006 - 494; 2007 - 510; 2008 - 455; 2009 - 421; 2010 - 411; 2011 - 368.

In 2011, Minnesota had among the lowest and safest death rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the nation at 0.65, according to DPS.

2012 PRELIMINARY REPORT

The 378 deaths include:

•281 motorists, down from the final 283 in 2011.

•53 motorcyclists, up from 42 in 2011.

•38 pedestrians, even with the 38 in 2011.

•Six bicyclists, up from five in 2011.

The deadliest months in 2012 were September (48), August (42) and October (38). The safest months were April (19), January (20) and March (23).

2012 PRELIMINARY DWI RESULTS

A total of 26,628 motorists were arrested for DWI (preliminary).

There were 29,918 DWI arrests in 2011.

In Douglas County, 213 were arrested in 2011. That's down slightly from the 227 who were arrested in 2010.

The preliminary DWI arrest count will grow as alcohol-concentration data is finalized. Crash data regarding drunk driving deaths will be reported later this year.

Each year, drunk driving-related crashes account for more than one-third of the state's total death count. In 2011, there were 111 drunk driving-related deaths.

OFFICE OF TRAFFIC SAFETY HIGHLIGHTS

•Preliminary DWI information indicates at least 300 people were arrested for DWI on New Year's Eve.

•OTS is investing federal grants totaling more than $7 million to 317 law enforcement agencies and community partner groups for enforcement and education campaigns from October 2012 through September 30, 2013.

•The 368 traffic deaths statewide in 2011 were the lowest since 1944 and a 44 percent reduction from a decade ago.

•More than 4,000 DWI offenders are using ignition interlock to benefit road safety and ensure legal, sober driving.

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Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
(320) 763-1236
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