Fatal accidents by the numbers

The weekend’s tragedies involving young drivers is, deservedly, getting plenty of attention from the news media. Over the next few days, we can expect to hear more discussion about whether age 16 is too young to be driving a car. It’s a good question, but where fatal accidents are concerned in Minnesota in 2010, it’s not an entirely significant one.

Today I went over accident reports for fatal accidents investigated by the State Patrol so far in 2010. Keep in mind, there are many, many more serious accidents — several involving young drivers — than fatal accidents.

But here are some of the significant points that the fatal accidents reveal to us:

· Forty-five people have died in these accidents in 2010. Other than the weekend deaths, only one was under 18.

· The average age of a driver involved in a fatal accident is 41.

· The average age of a person killed in a car crash (excluding pedestrians) is 41.

· Other than the weekend accidents, a driver under 18 has been involved in a fatal accident only twice in 2010.

· Alcohol is was found in the system of at least one driver in only six accidents. In 13 other accidents, the question of whether alcohol was found in a driver’s system is unresolved. Alcohol was not involved in the other two accidents involving teenage drivers.

· In one-third of the accidents, the victim was not wearing a seat belt. But in crashes involving victims age 30 or younger, a seat belt was being used only half of the time.

Meanwhile, colleague Bill Wareham has been going over nationwide statistics of traffic fatalities, finding that fatal accidents involving 16-20 year olds make up 13% of all traffic fatalities, the lowest figure since at least 1994. That’s a lower percentage than 25-34 year olds (17.9%), 35-44 year olds (14.5%), and 45-54 year olds (14.6%).

While the rate of 16-20 year old deaths has been declining, the 25-to-34-year-old age group rate has been increasing for several years. The biggest increases in the last 14 years, however, are the number of fatal accidents involving 45-64 year olds.