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Early snapshot: Traffic fatalities up in 2014 so far

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Minnesota transportation officials not long ago announced good news: Traffic fatalities in the state dropped in 2013, continuing a downward trend in the last decade. There were 375 traffic fatalities last year, down from 395 in 2012.

But in 2014 so far, the trend has reversed a bit. To be sure, it's very early in the year, but an early snapshot shows that through Feb. 5, there were 28 traffic deaths in the state, well above the 18 at this point last year. (The state keeps a year-to-date tally on its traffic safety page.)

That's the wrong direction as state officials seek to hit a goal of lowering traffic fatalities to 350 this year, as part of the Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) program, launched in 2003.

To hit that target, state officials say they are focusing on four areas: education, enforcement, engineering and emergency trauma response. When it comes to enforcement, state officials say that the 25 counties with the highest totals of alcohol-related fatalities will be the focus of increased DWI enforcement through September 2014.

National traffic safety advocates say states should go further. The group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says Minnesota specifically needs four tougher laws:

– An all-rider motorcycle helmet law.

– Raising the minimum age for a learner's permit from 15 to 16 and to 18 for an unrestricted license.

– A tougher nighttime driving restriction for teens with graduated drivers' licenses.

– Required ignition interlocks for all drunken-driving offenders.

The progressive nonprofit group Minnesota 2020 advocates another step: The aggressive pursuit at a national level of vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology, which allows cars to "talk" to each other and avoid crashing.

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