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Nearly 500 people died in traffic crashes in Minnesota in 2021, the highest number in more than a decade. 

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety on Tuesday reported 497 people died on Minnesota roads last year. That's the highest number since 2007, when 510 people died in traffic crashes in Minnesota. 

This total is is significantly higher than the average number of traffic fatalities the state has seen in recent years. From 2016-2020, the state averaged 378 road deaths annually, the Office of Traffic Safety said.

“I’m saddened knowing how many families lost a loved one in a traffic crash in 2021,” said Mike Hanson, Office of Traffic Safety director. “With sadness, there is also anger. Anger that so many motorists are taking the privilege of driving for granted. Some drivers are deliberately exceeding the speed limit, failing to put down the phone, refusing to buckle up and making the poor choice of driving impaired. 

"Until every motorist takes responsibility for their own actions, we’ll continue to see the carnage on our roads. Let’s make sure 2022 isn’t as heartbreaking for Minnesotans," Hanson added.

Authorities said speed was the largest contributing factor in fatal crashes in 2021. Speeding has shot up among Minnesota drivers during the pandemic, with DPS reporting 162 people were killed in speed-related crashes in 2021, which is a 33% increase from 2020 and a 116% increase from 2019.

Related [Aug. 13, 2021]: Minnesota officials issue more than 17,000 speeding citations in July

Related [June 30, 2021]: Speed is fueling big rise in traffic deaths in Minnesota this year

Related [April 9, 2021]: Speed-related crashes, deaths are a mounting problem in Minnesota

Speed was a factor in 33% of all traffic deaths last year, up from 26% over the five years from 2016-2020.

Experts believe a few things have led to more people speeding — and at much higher speeds — and driving dangerously in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them: less traffic on roads gives people more opportunities to speed, increased boredom that leads to risk-taking behaviors and an impaired ability to perceive and control speeds due to a charge in visual information (less traffic).

People who weren't wearing seat belts and died in crashes were also 4% higher in 2021 (109 deaths) compared to 2020, and 29% higher than 2019, Minnesota data show.

Preliminary data also show there were 124 alcohol-related deaths in 2021, down from 135 in 2020 and up from 114 in 2019. There were 24 distracted-related deaths last year, down from 32 in 2020 and 34 in 2019. 

Of the 497 traffic fatalities, 58 were pedestrians, up from 45 in 2020 and 50 in 2019; nine were bicyclists, down from 10 in 2020 and 2019; and 67 were motorcyclists, up from 64 in 2020 and 44 in 2019. 

Here's a breakdown of the traffic fatalities since 2007:

  • 2007 — 510 deaths
  • 2008 — 455 deaths
  • 2009 — 421 deaths
  • 2010 — 411 deaths
  • 2011 — 368 deaths
  • 2012 — 395 deaths
  • 2013 — 387 deaths
  • 2014 — 361 deaths
  • 2015 — 411 deaths
  • 2016 — 392 deaths
  • 2017 — 358 deaths
  • 2018 — 381 deaths
  • 2019 — 364 deaths
  • 2020 — 394 deaths
  • 2021 — 497 deaths

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