Driving in Minnesota
Driving in Minnesota can be a study in contrasts, from battling downtown commuter traffic in the Twin Cities to meandering along Scenic Byways in the state nicknamed the "Land of 10,000 Lakes."
If you're lucky, you might experience the famous "Minnesota nice" from other drivers as you're sailing along one of the many scenic drives in Minnesota, with stunning views of rivers, woods and waterfalls, or checking out Minnesota roadside attractions such as the World's Tallest Paul Bunyan, a state legend that draws tourists from all over.
"I was rarely, if ever, honked at while driving in Minnesota," says Stacy Caprio, a marketing consultant and native Minnesotan who now lives in Boston, where she hears plenty of horns.
But driving in Minnesota isn't without its challenges, including driving in winter weather, which causes an increased number of fender benders.
"What is most troubling to me is winter driving," says Julie Michener, a public relations professional who grew up in Minnesota, has spent more than 25 years in the Twin Cities, and lately has seen more accidents, spinouts and rollovers during bad weather that affect the roadways.
"People seem to think their 'all-wheel drive' cars mean they can drive with impunity," she says.
Auto Insurance Regulations in Minnesota
Drivers must carry multiple types of auto insurance in Minnesota. In fact, Minnesota is one of only five states that require: bodily injury and property damage liability insurance, personal injury protection and both uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, according to state data on auto insurance requirements.
Minnesota law requires the following mandatory minimum coverage:
- $30,000 for injury to one person
- $60,000 for injury to two or more people
- $10,000 for property damage
Personal Injury Protection
- $40,000 per person per accident, which includes $20,000 for hospital and medical expenses and $20,000 for other costs, including lost wages
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM and UIM)
- $25,000 for injury to one person for both UM and UIM
- $50,000 for injury to more than one person for UM and UIM
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), Minnesota has a lower than average number of uninsured drivers at 10.8 percent compared with a national average of 12.6 percent. In an attempt to reduce the number of uninsured motorists even further, Minnesota passed a vehicle insurance law that took effect in January of 2016. Now, drivers must show proof of auto insurance, rather than simply stating they have coverage, in order to register a vehicle and get tags for their license plates.
Minnesota Car Culture
Driving in Minnesota reflects the state's unique "Minnesota nice" and passive-aggressive dichotomy, Michener observes. "On the one hand, merging and lane changes can be a lesson in frustration and defying death, yet freeway traffic can be brought to a dead stop by a mother goose and her goslings," she says.
In an opinion piece about driving in Minnesota in the Star Tribune newspaper, New York transplant Jason Good describes Minnesota drivers as both "too fast and too slow." He explains the contradiction by saying drivers stop when there's no sign telling them to do so, drive too slowly in the left lane and hit the gas hard in the right one – even when roads are icy. But that doesn't mean they excuse bad driving by others.
When he got lost during his first week in Minneapolis, he marveled at the way other drivers stopped behind him at the intersection instead of swerving around and going on their way. But instead of smiling at his "sorry" wave, they glared.
"I'm left either sighing in disbelief at the snail's pace of traffic," Good writes, "or gasping in horror at how thoroughly I was dusted by that pick-up truck with a six-point buck strapped to its hood."
Urban vs. Rural Roads
There are plenty of rural roads in Minnesota, and driving on rural roads tends to be more dangerous than navigating urban areas across the Unites States. Overall, the crash death rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 2.6 percent higher on rural roads across the country in 2015.
That difference is even more pronounced in Minnesota than in many other states. In that state in 2010, rural accidents accounted for 70 percent of the total traffic deaths, according to data on rural and urban crashes from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. That's much higher than the national average, with rural areas accounting for 55 percent of total crash deaths overall.
There are various reasons Minnesota rural roads are so much more dangerous than the highways of the Twin Cities, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
Even though they face poor lighting, sharp curves and abundant wildlife that make for risky driving, rural drivers, especially those behind the wheels of pick-up trucks, are less likely to buckle up. In fact, 80 percent of the "unbelted traffic deaths" occur on rural Minnesota roads.
Miles Driven in Minnesota
Drivers across the United States logged 3.2 trillion miles behind the wheel in 2016, an increase of 2.8 percent over the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In 2014, Minnesota drivers racked up a total of 57.4 billion miles, an increase of one percent over the previous year. That works out to an average of slightly over 10,500 miles per person.
The number of miles driven per capita is increasing across the country, and 70 percent of states saw that figure increase from 2011 to 2014. And those additional miles behind the wheel mean more accidents on U.S. roads.
In 2016, as many as 40,000 people died in U.S. traffic accidents, according to preliminary data from the National Safety Council. That number is up six percent from 2015 and 14 percent from 2014. The NSC calls that rise "the most dramatic two-year escalation" in 53 years.
In Minnesota, 74,772 crashes occurred on state roads in 2015, according to 2015 Crash Facts, published by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. In those crashes, 411 people died and 29,981 were injured.
The Minnesota vehicle crash death rate, at .72 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, makes Minnesota roads some of the safest in the country. Only a few states – Massachusetts and Rhode Island – and Washington D.C. have lower rates. The U.S. average is 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
However, the news isn't all good: the number of people killed in Minnesota was up 13.9 percent over 2014, and in 2015 hit the highest number in five years.
Gas Prices in the North Star State
Across the country, gas prices have continued to climb, with an average cost of $2.35 a gallon in August of 2017, about 22 cents higher than the previous summer, according to AAA. But drivers can take steps to save money on gas to minimize the amount they shell out for commuting, running errands and road trips.
In Minnesota, the average gas price was slightly lower than the national average at $2.29 per gallon in August 2017, and gas prices ranged from $2.24 to $2.36 per gallon across most of the state, according to a Minnesota gas price map from GasBuddy.com.
While drivers grumble about rising gas prices, some auto experts point to a silver lining: less driving and thus fewer accidents. However, while researchers in the past have found that more expensive gas leads to safer roads, that is not always the case, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
In fact, during one period in 2014 and 2015, gas prices went down but the amount of driving increased. Unfortunately, the III predicts that rising gas prices will not reduce the number of crashes and insurance claims in the near future.
Unemployment in Minnesota
It's also important to look at state joblessness because employment affects when, how much and how people drive. Generally jobs mean less time spent in the house and more time spent in the car going to work and on vacation. So a lower unemployment rate tends to increase the number of auto accidents.
As of June 2017, the latest month for which numbers are available, Minnesota's unemployment rate held steady at 3.7 percent, considerably lower than the national average of 4.5 percent.
Generally, a one percent decrease in unemployment can lead to a two percent increase in vehicle fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Despite its low unemployment rate, Minnesota does have a low fatality rate, though road deaths there are on the rise.
Minnesota Teen Driving Laws
Teens are the riskiest drivers on the road, partly due to inexperience, but parents who carefully monitor teen driving can help keep their kids safe.
At a state level, graduated licensing systems help young drivers build up experience relatively safely. Like other states, Minnesota gradually grants driving privileges as new drivers pass milestones.
Teens first get a learner's permit, then a provisional license that carries some restrictions, then a full license. To get an instructional permit in Minnesota, you must be at least 15 and meet certain requirements, including 30 hours of classroom driver education, plus behind-the-wheel instruction and a test on the rules of the road. With a permit, a teen can drive with a parent, guardian or other licensed driver age 21 or over in the passenger seat.
At age 16, a driver who meets certain requirements, including 40 hours of supervised driving, may get a provisional license. In Minnesota, new drivers must abide by special restrictions for the first six months after receiving a provisional license. For example, they cannot drive between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., unless they're driving to or from work or a school event, or they're with another licensed driver who is 25 or older.
Minnesota limits new drivers to one passenger under the age of 20 in the first six months of provisional licensure and three passengers in that age group in the second six months. However, the rule doesn't apply if a parent or guardian also rides in the car or if the young passengers are members of the driver's immediate family.
After holding a provisional license for one year or turning 18, and meeting additional requirements, including 10 additional hours of supervised driving, a teen may obtain a full license.
And Minnesota also has a "Not a Drop" law that makes it a crime for anyone under 21 to drive after consuming even a sip of alcohol. Teens who violate this rule can be prosecuted under the "Not a Drop" law, which is separate from DWI laws. Provided a violation is not a DWI with evidence of impaired driving or a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher, consequences include misdemeanor penalties and license suspension for 30 to 180 days, depending on their previous driving record. Drivers who violate the "Not a Drop" law at age 16 or 17 get tried in juvenile court, unlike in cases of DWI.
Efforts to Combat Distracted Driving
It's clear that distracted driving is a growing problem among both teens and older drivers from coast to coast, and the state of Minnesota has taken measures to combat this risky behavior.
In Minnesota, it's against the law for any driver to use a cell phone to send or read text messages or to use the internet for any reason – whether to scroll through Facebook posts, tweet, check the news or read an email – while driving.
Distraction is an especially big problem for young drivers, and it plays a role in 60 percent of moderate and severe crashes involving teen drivers, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. To curb this problem, the state has made it illegal for drivers under 18 to use a cell phone for any purpose other than calling 911. So, while drivers over 18 can make calls while driving, younger drivers may not.
The State of Driving in Minnesota
Now that you've got a better idea of what to expect on the roads of Minnesota, don't let the relatively safe roads make you complacent. Remember to buckle up, drive carefully and enjoy the views in this scenic state.