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BISMARCK – With three and a half months to go in 2015, North Dakota has recorded more than 100 traffic fatalities and is on pace for one of the deadliest years on the state's roadways in recent history.
A collision between a pickup truck and semitrailer killed two men and injured two others Sunday night in McKenzie County in the heart of the state's Oil Patch, pushing the traffic death count to 103 for the year, according to the state Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation.
There were 77 traffic deaths recorded by the same point in 2014, a year that ended with 135 fatalities.
Lt. Tom Iverson said traffic deaths are on pace to exceed last year's total, but it's unclear why. Rates of alcohol and seat belt use seem to be consistent with previous years, and it's been a relatively mild year for weather, he said.
"I don't think there's anything that we can necessarily point our finger at that's out of the ordinary," he said. "Hopefully we're able to finish the year and have a safe rest of the year, but we'll be doing our part out there as far as enforcement and education."
The state had 148 traffic deaths in both 2013 and 2011 and 170 in 2012, the most since 1982 and the only year to top 150 traffic deaths since the early 1980s.
North Dakota's oil boom and population growth have put more traffic on the state's roadways, leading to a rise in the number of fatal and injury crashes — but not an increase in the crash rate, because of how many more miles are being traveled on the state's roads.
During a decade when U.S. traffic deaths decreased dramatically, North Dakota averaged 141 traffic deaths per year from 2009-2014, up from 112 per year from 2005-2009. However, the total number of vehicle miles traveled also jumped from about 7.9 million in 2009 to 10.4 million in 2014 — a 31 percent increase, compared to a 7 percent increase from 2005 to 2009.
The DOT's long-term goal is to have zero traffic deaths, but in 2013 it set an intermediate goal of reducing the three-year average of traffic deaths to 100 or fewer by 2020.
It also commissioned Local Road Safety Program reports for all 53 counties and 12 major cities to identify high-risk locations that would benefit from safety improvements.
Cities and counties submitted .5 million worth of traffic safety projects that have been included in the DOT's plan for 2016-19, which requires Federal Highway Administration approval because 90 percent of it would be paid with federal dollars.
McKenzie and Williams counties in North Dakota's Oil Patch lead the state with more than a dozen traffic fatalities each so far this year. The DOT's county-by-county list of the first 95 fatalities of this year showed Grand Forks County had the third-most fatalities with eight. Cass County has recorded three traffic fatalities.