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North Dakota fatal accidents have been on a downward trend since they reached 170 in 2012. Forum News Service file photo.

Motor vehicle crashes, fatalities continue downward trend in ND

BISMARCK — The number of motor vehicle crashes and fatalities in North Dakota in 2018 continued a downward trend that began about five years ago, according to data released Monday, Nov. 18, by the state Department of Transportation. Fewer crashes in the oil patch might be one reason.

There were 15,242 crashes statewide last year, compared with 15,280 in 2017. There were 105 fatalities, down from 116. Crashes have been falling since reaching nearly 19,000 in 2013. Fatalities have been on a downward trend since they reached 170 in 2012.

"We can't pinpoint one specific reason for improvements, but it is typically a result of a number of strategies, including education, enforcement and engineering working together," said Lauren Bjork, safety public information program manager for the transportation department.

State data show a significant drop in crashes in major oil patch counties compared to 2012. For example, Williams County went from 1,696 crashes and 27 fatalities that year to 1,086 crashes and 10 fatalities in 2018. McKenzie County dropped from 578 crashes and 19 fatalities to 443 and seven.

The state has added "significant" pipeline capacity since 2012, though it's hard to say whether that has contributed to a corresponding drop in oil patch truck traffic, given that energy production has been increasing, according to Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

The state added about 6,100 miles of new gathering pipeline for crude oil and produced water, a byproduct of oil production, from 2012 through 2018, he said. That's nearly one-fifth of the current pipeline infrastructure in the state, he said.

North Dakota's 2018 fatality rate — measured in number of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled — fell below the national rate for only the second time in the past 10 years.

"It's great to see North Dakota being under that, definitely," Bjork said. "We hope it continues to decrease every single year, because our goal is zero (fatalities) through the Vision Zero initiative."

State officials last year unveiled a new traffic safety strategy called "Vision Zero. Zero fatalities. Zero excuses," which aims to create a culture in which motor vehicle crashes are recognized as preventable and not tolerated. More information can be found at VisionZero.ND.gov.

Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of injury-related deaths in North Dakota.

“Of the 105 fatalities in 2018, about 48% were not wearing their seat belt in vehicles that were seat belt-eligible, 32% were alcohol-related, and 45% involved speed and/or aggressive driving,” Transportation Director Bill Panos said.

The percentage of unbelted victims has dropped steadily since 2014, when it reached 69%. The percentage of alcohol-related fatalities last year also was down significantly from the previous four years, when it was between 44% and 49%. The percentage of fatal crashes involving speed and/or aggressive driving ticked up last year after two years of decline following 2014 and 2015, when it was 41% each year.

Other data for 2018 show two fatalities involving bicycles, two involving off-highway vehicles, six involving pedestrians and 16 involving motorcycles. The numbers are fairly stable compared to recent years.

The majority of crashes were in the state's most populous counties — Cass, Burleigh, Grand Forks, Ward and Williams. Teenage drivers continued to account for about one-fifth of all crashes and about one-tenth of all fatal crashes.