One concerning and surprising trend during the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in deaths from motor vehicle crashes. In Minnesota, 2020 proved to be the deadliest year since 2015, with 394 traffic fatalities. Minnesota Compass took a look at traffic fatality trends in Minnesota before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The increase in traffic fatalities primarily occurred in greater Minnesota
Overall, the rate of traffic fatalities has been declining for the past 20 years in Minnesota. However, greater Minnesota experienced an increase of nearly two deaths per 100,000 residents from 2019 to 2020.
Most of this increase occurred in the west central and Northland (northeast) regions of Minnesota. The Twin Cities has the lowest rate of fatalities in the state.
Speed is the most common cause of the increase in traffic fatalities
The most common factors associated with fatal traffic crashes include speeding, no safety belt, drunk driving, and distracted driving. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, speed-related fatalities are the biggest driver of the increase in fatalities, with unbuckled motorists coming in at a close second.
Why increased fatalities...but decreased injuries?
It seems counterintuitive that traffic fatalities increased during a time when fewer people were driving. Overall, the rate of traffic injuries and fatalities combined shows a decrease in both the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota during the pandemic.
While there is no definitive answer, there are likely certain factors that led to this increase. Because speed-related fatalities increased in greater Minnesota, it is possible that less road traffic led to an increase in speeding among drivers, and greater speeds are associated with higher fatality rates.