With Spike in Traffic Deaths, Minnesota Ramps Up Speed Enforcement

Minnesota transportation and public safety officials have launched a traffic enforcement crackdown and awareness campaign amid a spike in deaths related to speeding during the coronavirus pandemic.

Public safety, transportation and health officials gathered for a news conference to announce the campaign, which will involve education and outreach about the dangers of speeding in addition to extra enforcement. The campaign — which started last month with a partnership between the Office of Traffic Safety and the State Patrol — will expand this month to include hundreds of local law enforcement agencies across the state.

“I think there’s obviously less traffic, roads are less congested so there’s more lane space for drivers to use and quite honestly abuse,” Office of Traffic Safety Director Mike Hanson told reporters. “I think there’s also a significant misperception out there that because of COVID and some other challenges, law enforcement is not actively working traffic anymore — nothing could be further from the truth.”

Hanson said that as fewer drivers frequented roads last year because of the pandemic, the state saw a 12% increase in speed-related deaths. The State Patrol issued more than 1,000 speeding citations last year to drivers going more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour — nearly double the amount in 2019.

The nearly 400 traffic fatalities in 2020 were the most the state has seen in five years, and the 120 speed-related deaths last year were the most since 2008. Six of the 23 fatal crashes across the state this year so far were found to have been because of excessive speeding.

Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher said last year saw traffic volumes fall as much as 70% statewide, which coincided with the increase in speeding. Kelliher told reporters that speeding endangers workers clearing or repairing roads as well, citing a nonfatal crash last week involving a snowplow and a semitrailer.

“The excuses don’t cut it — like for the person in Detroit Lakes who was driving 122 miles an hour because they were late to pick up their friends — it doesn’t cut it, and we’re here to do something about it,” said State Patrol Chief Col. Matt Langer.

The campaign will run into the summer when the Office of Traffic Safety begins another enforcement and education push.

Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative.