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Minnesota, ND report fewer traffic deaths

Traffic deaths dropped in Minnesota and North Dakota last year, according to preliminary numbers reported by the state agencies charged with tracking the statistic.

In Minnesota, traffic deaths across the state dropped 16 percent, from 510 in 2007 to 424 in 2008.

The number is expected to climb before May, when the final tally is expected. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety said in a news release Monday that it will likely receive more reports for crashes last year, so the number isn't comprehensive.

However, the 424 traffic deaths is the lowest mark in the state since 1944, when 356 fatalities were reported. Officials said increased seat-belt use contributed to the dramatic improvement.

In North Dakota, the Highway Patrol reported 104 traffic deaths on the state's roads last year.

That compares with 111 traffic deaths in both in 2007 and 2006.

The patrol said last year brought 97 fatal crashes and 45 of them were alcohol-related, killing 50 people.

The state's average over the past five years is 51 traffic deaths involving alcohol.

The patrol says last year's numbers included 13 motorcycle deaths, the most in five years.

Minnesota reported 68 motorcyclists on its roads were killed in 2008, up from 61 in 2007. Crash data for alcohol-related deaths in 2008 will be reported later this year.