For the first time in 17 years, North Dakota has recorded fewer than 100 motor vehicle fatalities.
The preliminary report from the state is the result of direct effort from the state's agencies to reduce the number of traffic fatalities with the Vision Zero initiative.
“The only acceptable number of deaths on North Dakota roads is zero, and every year that we move closer to that goal represents important progress, because these aren’t just numbers – they’re people’s lives, and every life matters,” Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement. “We’re grateful to our Vision Zero partners for their dedication to keeping everyone safe and secure, and to the traveling public who have heeded the initiative’s emphasis on personal responsibility, including driving sober and distraction-free, buckling up and slowing down.”
Vision Zero launched in 2018 as a collaboration between North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT), Highway Patrol and the Department of Health.
Since its inception, the state has seen a drop in motor vehicle fatalities, which decreased from 116 in 2017 to 105 in 2018. It will take 30 days to finalize the 2019 crash reports and investigations, which currently stands at 98. This would be the lowest total recorded since 2002.
The program expanded this year with additional safety measures such as highway safety engineering systems, law enforcement equipment and programs; the establishment of highway safety corridors; crash data improvements and dashboards; and Vision Zero Schools, a new peer-to-peer program in high schools, according to NDDOT.
Other areas of focus included the importance of passenger safety and dangers of speeding, distracted driving and impaired driving. The "Not Funny" campaign drove home the importance of driving sober or finding a ride home.
“We must keep in mind that lives lost on North Dakota roads are family, friends and community members,” NDDOT Director Bill Panos said in a public statement. “Of the 98 fatalities, approximately 47% were not wearing their seat belt. Seat belts are the single most effective safety device to prevent death and injury in a motor vehicle crash. We are working to establish a culture of personal responsibility where motor vehicle fatalities are recognized as preventable and not tolerated, because when it comes to those we love, zero is the only acceptable number of lives to lose.”
Col. Brandon Solberg, superintendent of the Highway Patrol, echoed, "If every driver and passenger chooses to buckle up, and every driver obeys speed limits and traffic laws and drives sober, the vast majority of traffic fatalities would be eliminated. Preventable human behavior contributes to 94% of motor vehicle crashes. Personal responsibility is the foundation of Vision Zero."Forty-two perfect of the fatalities in 2019 were alcohol-related, while speed contributed to 25% of the total. Victims ranged from 3 years olf to 93 years sold, and the majority, 83%, were North Dakota residents.
Modes of transportation varied, with 74 deaths occurring in a passenger vehicle, 11 motorcyclists, five pedestrians, four were on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and two were bicyclists. One fatality involved a train and 14 involved commercial motor vehicles, according to NDDOT.
State Health Officer Mylynn Tuft added, "Parents play a vital role in keeping their children safe on the road, no matter the age. Parents should talk often with their young drivers about alcohol, lack of seat belt use, distracted driving, speeding, and driving with passengers. Young children should always be buckled in a car seat that is installed correctly and appropriate for their age and size.”