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Fewest driver deaths reported since 1944

Fewer drivers died on Minnesota roads in 2009 than in any year since 1944. Mower County fatalities also decreased.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety reported Thursday that there were 421 traffic deaths statewide last year, down 8 percent from 2008.

Of those 421, two occurred in Mower County, both of which involved motorcycle crashes. The two deaths were the fewest since 2007, when the county also had two traffic deaths, and in 2005, when there was just one.

Mower County had four traffic deaths in 2008.

The decrease continues a downward trend for the state. There were 625 traffic deaths in Minnesota in 2000, and the state had more than 600 as recently as 2003. The figures in 2008 and 2009 represent the smallest totals during the past decade.

“The state’s road safety progress is made clear by the facts. Our efforts are helping to prevent deaths on Minnesota roadways,” DPS Commissioner Michael Campion said in a press release. “This trend shows how effective legislation and well-executed traffic safety programs can be.”

Among the legislative measures DPS cites as contributing to the decrease is the 0.08 legal alcohol-concentration limit, enacted in 2005, and the new primary seat belt law that went into effect last year.

Statistics support the claims — of all the traffic deaths in 2009, 141 were alcohol related, which represents an all-time low for the state.

And of the 302 vehicle occupants killed last year, just 129 were belted — proof, DPS officials say, of why buckling up is so important.

“Ultimately, we can prevent traffic deaths when everyone buckles up, hangs up the phone, obeys speed limits and realizes there are many alternatives to driving impaired,” Cheri Marti, DPS director of the Office of Traffic Safety, said in the release.