See more of the story

The number of fatalities on Minnesota roads in the first 11 months this year has equaled the total for all of last year and threatens to make 2020 the deadliest year since 2015.

Sharp increases in the number of deaths attributed to speeding and failure to wear seat belts has pushed the 2020 traffic death toll as of Tuesday to 364, despite this being a year when the COVID-19 pandemic has for many months reduced the number of miles driven because of limits on business and school operations, according to state traffic officials.

“With fewer vehicles on the road during the 2020 pandemic, the loss of life on Minnesota roads is beyond disappointing; it is tragic and completely preventable,” Mike Hanson, director of Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety, said in a statement accompanying the latest data. “While most Minnesotans are driving smart, there are a number of people who have used the lighter traffic as a license to disobey laws.”

With December’s 10-year average for traffic deaths running at 30, the final 2020 fatality total is on pace to top each of the previous four years but unlikely to eclipse the 411 deaths recorded on Minnesota roads in 2015.

According to the DPS:

• Speeding in the first 11 months has outstripped every other contributing factor, with 107 deaths, compared to 68 at this time last year.

• Lack of seat belt use has played a role in 92 deaths so far this year, vs. 66 through 2019’s first 11 months.

• People on motorcycles have accounted for 63 deaths in 2020. That 11-month tally in 2019 was 44.

As societal restrictions kicked in related to COVID-19 in mid-March, so did the penchant for speeding. This past spring alone, the State Patrol reported a 150% increase in drivers caught going 100 mph or faster.

“The rising number of speed violations and the decline in seat belt usage from 2019 to 2020 cannot be ignored,” Hanson said. “We grieve with all of those experiencing an empty chair at the table for the holidays, and we beg each and every one of you to start understanding the consequences of dangerous driving behaviors.”

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482