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State hits 300 road deaths for year

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety reports the state's year-to-date traffic fatalities topped 300 this week. As of September 29, the state's preliminary traffic death count is 303, compared to 313 at this time last year. Minnesota is on pace for 405 traffic deaths for 2010 -- fewer than the 421 deaths in 2009, which was the lowest death count since 1944. The state hit the 200 road death mark in late July.

The projection of 405 deaths for the year is very close to the goal of the state's core traffic safety initiative, Toward Zero Deaths (TZD), of fewer than 400 deaths in 2010. However, with the relatively deadly summer driving season at an end, officials say the 400-deaths target is still within reach.

Traffic Safety officials say seat belt enforcement, as well as aggressive and impaired driving patrols coupled with educational outreach have factored into the continued trend of fewer deaths. DPS also cites continued MnDOT engineering improvements and efficient emergency response to crashes are contributing to the lower death count -- all elements of the TZD program.

"The 300 deaths for the year is another sad reminder that we aren't taking traffic safety as seriously as we need to, and this is resulting in hundreds of preventable deaths," says Cheri Marti, DPS Office of Traffic Safety director. "We've made progress at limiting road deaths, and we can continue that progress, but it has to start with motorists buckling up, driving focused, traveling at safe speeds and never getting behind the wheel impaired."

The 303 traffic deaths for 2010 include -- 29 motorcyclists, a significant decrease from 48 this time in 2009; 24 pedestrians, slightly lower than the 26 at this time last year; and eight bicyclists, up from six in 2009 at this time.

TZD focuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes -- education, enforcement, engineering and emergency trauma response. TZD is a partnership led by the departments of Public Safety, Transportation and Health, in cooperation with state and local law enforcement, Minnesota County Engineers Association, and the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.