ST. PAUL — While traffic volume has dropped in Minnesota, this past Memorial Day weekend was the deadliest on the state’s roads since 2010, with eight dead in six different crashes.
It’s the highest number of fatalities over the three day weekend since 2010, when nine died in crashes across the state, according to the Minnesota State Patrol, and state officials say it comes as more drivers speed on pandemic-emptied roads.
"Our overall crash numbers are down in proportion with the drop in traffic we are seeing on roads in Minnesota," said Mike Hanson with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. "The severity of those crashes is up and the one thing that drives severity is speed."
The state's stay at home order, which ran from mid-March to the second week of May, caused a dramatic spike in high-speed incidents on Minnesota roadways, said Hanson, the state's Director of Traffic Safety.
"Since the stay at home order went into effect, the Minnesota State Patrol alone has seen a 149% increase in the number of drivers who have been cited for traveling more than 100 miles per hour," he said. "That's just insanity on our roads. You cannot survive that collision and neither can anybody you hit."
Drivers haven’t been going just 5 or 10 mph over the posted limit. On two consecutive days in mid May, authorities cited two different drivers in the Detroit Lakes area for traveling over 100 mph, Hanson said. A state trooper also stopped a driver on Interstate 94 near Fergus Falls for driving 106 mph, 36 over the posted speed limit of 70 mph.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety reported the state has surpassed 100 traffic deaths so far in 2020. Minnesota reached the mark on May 22 and preliminary numbers indicate a total of 108 deaths on the roadways, slightly higher than 2019's mark at this point.
The department listed speed-related crashes as the leading cause of deaths so far in 2020, resulting in 32 deaths. Alcohol-involved crashes have resulted in 26 deaths and five died in distracted driving crashes.
However, the state has also seen a 26% drop in DWI arrests, with 292 drivers arrested for driving while intoxicated so far in 2020 versus 393 at the same point in 2019.
The Memorial Day weekend is considered the beginning of the 100 busiest days on the road in Minnesota.