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The Des Moines Register  reports that fatal crashes in Iowa are at their highest level in four years, and state officials suspect that distracted and intoxicated drivers are to blame.

Through May 27, there have been 139 fatal crashes across the state, a 28.7 percent increase compared with the same time period last year, according to Iowa Department of Transportation statistics.

The last time Iowa had so many fatal crashes this soon in the year was in 2012, when there were 142 fatal crashes through May 27.

Alex Murphy, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, says the state has no “specific analysis of the causes of this increase,” but officials have their suspicions of some of the contributing factors.

“We continue to see distracted driving, impaired driving and speed among other factors that contribute to the fatality crashes,” Murphy said, “but at this time we don’t see one single cause for the increase in fatalities in Iowa.”

State agencies are doing a “more complete analysis” in an attempt to identify patterns that can reduce traffic fatalities, Murphy said.

“We continue to educate the public and raise awareness about this critical issue,” he added. “We encourage motorists to be vigilant of their surroundings while driving and obey the traffic laws that are in place. The combination of speed and no seat belt create the greatest risk of death or serious injury.”

Forty-four percent of victims of fatal crashes through May 20 were not wearing a seat belt, down from 49 percent in that time period last year, according to DOT data.

Holiday weekends typically lead to a higher rate of crashes, since more people are traveling, and law enforcement agencies planned to step up patrols accordingly this past weekend, said Iowa State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Nathan Ludwig.

The State Patrol had planned to have extra officers patrolling across Iowa starting May 23 through Memorial Day, as part of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau’s special traffic enforcement program, Ludwig said. Seat belt use was the patrol’s primary focus over the Memorial Day weekend.

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The Des Moines and West Des Moines police departments also had extra officers on patrol for Memorial Day weekend, according to department spokespersons.

There has been at least one fatal crash in Iowa every Memorial Day weekend since 1962, according to DOT data. During most years, at least one of the crashes was alcohol-related.

Last year, there were two traffic fatalities over the Memorial Day weekend, and in 2014 there were three. The highest number in recent years was in 2009, with 11 traffic fatalities over the weekend.

Crash statistics for Memorial Day weekend this year were not readily available Monday.

Traffic deaths

The number of traffic fatalities in Iowa through May 27, by year:

2016: 139
2015: 108
2014: 103
2013: 99
2012: 142
2011: 116

Memorial Day weekend statistics in Iowa


Traffic fatalities: 2
Alcohol-related: 1


Traffic fatalities: 3
Alcohol-related: 1


Traffic fatalities: 3
Alcohol-related: 2


Traffic fatalities: 9
Alcohol-related: 6


Traffic fatalities: 5
Alcohol-related: 2

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident or has been the victim of a wrongful death, contact our Des Moines Iowa personal injury law firm today at 515-493-4878 or via email.