With 21 days left in 2020, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety released a grim milestone — 367 people died on Minnesota roads since Jan. 1 this year.
That compares with 364 fatalities in all of 2019.
On a 10-year average, 30 people die on Minnesota roads in December.
Public safety officials said more crashes were speed-related, involved more motorcycles, more drivers were alone when the crash happened, and more fatalities involved unbelted motorists.
The increase of fatal crashes is disheartening to law enforcement officers who are often the first to arrive at crash scenes.
“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,” said Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol.
“While most Minnesotans are driving smart, there are a number of people who have used the lighter traffic as a license to disobey laws.”
He said the numbers illustrate poor choices drivers are making. Of the 364 fatalities:
•107 are speed-related compared with 68 this time last year.
•63 are motorcyclists compared with 44 reported this time last year.
•314 are motor vehicle occupants compared with 339 reported this time last year.
•92 are unbelted motorists compared with 66 this time last year.
Langer said the rising numbers of speed violations and decline in seatbelt usage cannot be ignored.
“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,” Langer said.
While distracted driving and alcohol-related fatalities were down from last year — 97 alcohol-related compared with 103 last year and 29 distracted-related compared with 27 last year — the actions still led to deaths.
Crash investigations have found the majority of the fatalities (72 percent) are male, and all age groups had 40 to 70 deaths in each 10-year increment. Three fatalities were ages 10 and younger.
“There are names behind the 364 traffic deaths,” Langer said. “They are loved ones — individuals who never made it home after traveling on our roads. By buckling up, slowing down, putting distractions away and lining up a sober ride, we can significantly reduce fatalities on our roads.”