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At 392 deaths, Minnesota on track for 14-year high rate of traffic fatalities

Excessive speeds were the top cause of 392 traffic fatalities since the beginning of the year, public safety officials said.

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A member of the Rochester Police Department marks the scene of a fatal crash at 48th Street Southwest and Commercial Drive Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (John Molseed / Post Bulletin)
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Public Safety officials on Monday, Oct. 18, urged drivers to limit their speeds and to take extra precautions as traffic deaths were on pace to hit a 14-year high.

Department heads reported that 392 people have died on Minnesota roads since the beginning of the year compared to 313 at this time in 2020. At current rates, the state could see 475 traffic deaths this year, public safety officials said. That would be the most since 2007.

Speed-related accidents are fueling the increase in fatalities, they said. So far this year 124 people have died in crashes where excessive speed was reported, up 27% from a year prior and up 107% from 2019.

"In the last 15 months we have rolled back 15 years worth of traffic safety work," Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council, said. "Within a year and a half, we've lost a decade and a half of time."

RECENT FATAL ACCIDENT IN MINNESOTA:

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The department, Minnesota Safety Council, AAA and other groups said they planned to take an education campaign to employers around the state to remind motorists about safe driving habits. They said employers have a broad reach and are trusted. And they asked Minnesota drivers to practice basic safe driving techniques to limit their risk on the road.
"It's simple: drive the speed limit, pay attention, don't drink and drive, and wear your seatbelt every single time you get in the vehicle," Minnesota State Patrol Chief Matt Langer said. "Those four simple things are all that we need to do in order to drastically reduce and, in fact, almost eliminate traffic crashes on our roads, especially fatal ones."

Langer and others said the surging traffic fatality rates are worrisome but injuries resulting from crashes were also ticking up as Minnesotans drive at greater speeds or enter into more dangerous driving situations.

Kellen Schmidt, a worker for a Minnesota utility company, in March was sitting in his parked car when a semi-truck crashed into the back and side of his vehicle. Schmidt sustained a traumatic brain injury in the accident that he said has stalled out plans for his family's future and caused daily stress and frustration.

"I can't do the things I want. Every night when I go to bed I just don't even want to wake up the next day," Schmidt said. "Life is not the same and I worry it's never going to be the same again."

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

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Kellen Schmidt, 33, spoke to reporters in St. Paul about state efforts to drive down traffic fatalities. Schmidt in March, 2021, suffered a traumatic brain injury after his car was struck from behind by another vehicle. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

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Kellen Schmidt, 33, spoke to reporters in St. Paul about state efforts to drive down traffic fatalities. Schmidt in March, 2021, suffered a traumatic brain injury after his car was struck from behind by another vehicle. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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