ST. PAUL (WCCO) — More than 200 people have died on Minnesota roads this year, the earliest point in the year that the state has reached this marker since 2009, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said.

As people gear up to travel over the holiday weekend, Sgt. Jesse Grabow, who works in Northwestern Minnesota, said the summer months are often the most dangerous. The Fourth of July weekend is one of the worst for DWIs, second only to St. Patrick’s Day.

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For the 202 traffic deaths this year, speeding is mostly to blame, accounting for 40%, according to data compiled by DPS.

There were 148 deaths at this same time last year and preliminary numbers show there were 394 total people who died in traffic incidents in 2020.

“We’re really in the heart of summer—the 100 busiest travel days of the year are that period from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend and that’s generally when we see an increase in the amount of serious injury in fatal-type crashes,” he said.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington told a legislative committee in May that state patrol hadn’t hired more road patrol in 16 years and more assistance is needed to monitor state roads.

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For the month of July, there are more road patrol troopers on the road thanks to federal funding to support overtime costs, the department said.

But the legislature did meet the request of State Patrol, providing funding in the $52 billion state budget to hire an additional 44 troopers. The state will also pay to outfit troopers with body camera videos.

Also in that transportation package is money to equip 12,000 school buses with security cameras to catch drivers who ignore bus stop signals.

The Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association estimates that 100,000 drivers unlawfully pass school buses while the stop-arm is extended per year, and only a fraction of that number is ticketed for that violation.

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Caroline Cummings