By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota public safety officials say traffic deaths in 2021 were the highest seen in over 10 years.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety announced that 497 people died in traffic incidents, according to preliminary figures. That’s the most since 2007 when 510 traffic deaths were recorded. Speed was the largest contributing factor in 2021.

“I’m saddened knowing how many families lost a loved one in a traffic crash in 2021,” Mike Hanson, Office of Traffic Safety director, said. “With sadness, there is also anger. Anger that so many motorists are taking the privilege of driving for granted.”

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Hanson says some drivers are intentionally exceeding the speed limit, are distracted by their phones, refuse to use their seat belts and are “making the poor choice” of driving while impaired.

“Until every motorist takes responsibility for their own actions, we’ll continue to see the carnage on our roads. Let’s make sure 2022 isn’t as heartbreaking for Minnesotans,” Hanson said.

Of the 497 traffic deaths, 67 were motorcyclists, nine were cyclists and 58 were pedestrians.

In the time period of 2016 to 2020, Minnesota has averaged 378 traffic fatalities each year; 394 deaths were recorded in 2020.

Alcohol and excessive speed is suspected in the first traffic death of 2022; a 51-year-old unbelted man died in the crash on New Year’s Day in Goodhue County.

Officials are reminding motorists to buckle up, pay attention, watch their speed, and to drive sober and smart.