There is good news this year for motorists traveling across the state's icy and snowy roadways. Traffic fatalities are down this year across the board, with each major category reporting fewer deaths in the double-digit range over last year's statistics.
2012, though, was a record year for new heights in traffic deaths. But 2013 didn't just drop from those heights, it also saw fewer deaths than the total in 2011, which had 148.
As of Thursday, there were 133 total fatal crashes in the state, making 13 fewer deaths than at the same point in 2012. Out of those 133 crashes there were 146 fatalities total, which is 22 fewer deaths than the same point last year.
This fatal crash in June was just outside Minot city limits. As winter weather continues to worsen motorists are asked to be careful.
Alcohol, which is a major contributing factor to traffic fatalities, contributed to 27 fewer fatal crashes than at the same point last year at 54 crashes. That accounts for 41 percent of the total fatal accidents, contributing 40 percent of the total deaths at 58.
That is significantly down in both total numbers and percentage from last year, with 76 crashes related to alcohol through Dec. 26, 2012, accounting for 85 deaths. That's 55 percent of all fatal accidents and 61 percent of all deaths from fatal accidents in that year.
In the remaining days of 2012, there was only one more crash and two more deaths, which brought that year to 146 crashes with 168 deaths.
The northwest region
It's not all good news, though. The northwest region of the state, home to the crude oil that keeps people coming and the economy booming, has seen even greater activity this year than last year and has the fatal crashes to prove it.
"I think it shows that we are busier here," said Capt. Gary Orluck, commander of the North Dakota highway patrol's Northwest region. "With that many more vehicles on the road and with the mistakes that drivers make that translate into collision, x amount of them are going to result in a serious injury or death."
Williams County, home of Williston at the heart of the Bakken formation, had 25 total fatalities. McKenzie County, home of the growing Watford City, had 24 total fatalities. Ward County, with Minot, had 18 fatalities throughout 2013 so far.
Those are some high totals anywhere in the state. The entire region accounted for 68 crashes and 79 deaths.
The southwest region, which had the second highest numbers, was still less than half of the northwest region with 31 total crashes and deaths.
"We're going to just continue doing what we're doing," Orluck said.
He stressed the fact that the region has received funding for additional troopers which should be on the roads by August.
Finishing off the regional tallies was the southeast region with 17 crashes and 19 deaths and the northeast region with 17 crashes and 17 deaths.
Six crashes, or five percent of the total, occurred on U.S. Interstates in the state.
27 crashes, or 20 percent, happened on U.S. Highways. That compares to 42 crashes, or 32 percent, on state highways.
County and township roads saw 38 fatal accidents, or 29 percent.
Tribal roads had three crashes, or two percent.
City roads had 13 deaths, or 10 percent.
The remaining three percent of crashes are unaccounted for in the statistics and may have resulted off road or on gravel roads.
There appeared to be slightly better seatbelt usage this year than there was in 2012, with only 79 deaths, or 54 percent, of those who chose not to wear one as opposed to 93 deaths, or 55 percent, in 2012.
The number of victims ejected, either fully or partially, from their vehicles was down to an almost ridiculous extent. Where 51 people were ejected in 2012, only eight people were ejected from their vehicle this year.
Likewise, rollovers were less this year. 54 people died from 49 rollover accidents this year. 68 deaths resulted from 62 rollovers in the same period last year.
Orluck, for one, thinks that maintaining the same course but with much added visibility may be the way to get people to drive a little safer out there as we enter a new year.
Troopers have reported that when they pull over people, especially those from out of state, the fines imposed on the drivers for things like speeding or not yielding the right-of-way are seen as being a joke. A $25 ticket for speeding, motorists argue, "makes speeding worth it," Orluck said.
But fines are determined by the state legislator.
"They have increased the DUI (driving under the influence) fines and we applaud that," Orluck said of state legislators. "Some high-profile crashes led to that and we're heading in that direction."
"We just need to continue in that process and remind the legislators that it's not the money that the fines generate but the attitude that it puts in people to encourage them to drive safely," he added.