Traffic Fatalities Increase After Years of Decline

Posted at: 12/27/2012 7:12 PM
By: Steph Crock

(ABC 6 News) -- Traffic fatalities in Minnesota, Iowa, even the nation have gone up. A reversal of a trend over the past several years. The numbers had been dropping since 2007. Last year, the nation was at its lowest number of road fatalities since the 1940's. This year, there was a surprising 7% jump across the nation according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Though this was an unexpected upswing, officials still say the numbers are still much lower than they were even two decades ago. "I think we've gone light years from even at the beginning of my career 20 years ago, in our enforcement efforts," said Sgt. Tom Claymon with the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Department.

That's why it was a bit surprising that for the first time in five years, more people were killed on the roads in Minnesota, and across the nation. Why the change?

"There's so many more drivers on the road, so many more inexperienced drivers on road. We're living longer so we've got a lot of elderly drivers on the road," said driving instructor Greg French.

That's one reason. French has taught 1,700 teens how to drive and says another thing that has changed since he's been teaching…”Technology increases more and more. People are just not paying attention and it’s not just kids. We can’t keep blaming kids. It’s people that are my age," said French.

"In a perfect world, there would be people pulling over to the side of the road to respond to emails and texts, but that's not the world we live in. We live in a world where everything is fast, it’s being done on the go," said Sgt. Claymon.

Even this year, a young woman was killed here in Olmsted County, texting while driving. Which is why police are cracking down on that too. "We spent an additional 882 hours on distracted driving," said Sgt. Claymon. The county also spent hundreds of extra hours on DWI patrols, seatbelts, and speed, but even with all of that..."A lot of cases are a direct result of mistakes being made by a driver or drivers and when those things occur, we have very little control of what can be put out there," said Sgt. Claymon.

Minnesota is also trying to make it a fifth straight New Year weekend without a drunk driving fatality.

In Iowa, total road deaths also increased with motorcycle fatalities seeing a significant jump. Officials there say a mild winter last year, meant more riders were on the roads.