ST. PAUL - While $105 seat belt required tickets continue to be issued by local law enforcement, Minnesota motorists and passengers are buckling up at record high rates, according to a Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) survey.
Results from a June 2013 DPS seat belt use survey showed a 94.8 percent seat belt use rate. The figure is a 15 percent increase since 2003 and up from 93.6 percent use in 2012.
DPS officials attribute the continued increase in seat belt use to public awareness and enforcement of the state's primary seat belt law, which became effective in June 2009.
OTS officials note a correlation between increased seat belt use and the decline of unbelted deaths.
"More than 100 unbelted motorists and passengers are killed annually on Minnesota roads," said Donna Berger, OTS director. "We ask everyone to do their part to reduce these preventable tragedies by buckling up, every ride, every time."
New Ulm Police Chief Myron Wieland said extra police and deputies are used at specific times on certain days and nights for state-funded Safe & Sober projects throughout the county.
"The latest seat belt statistics are very good, but there's always room for improvement," Wieland said. "We'd like to see everyone comply with laws."
Minnesota passed its first seat belt law in 1986. Belt compliance was 20 percent that year with 280 unbelted deaths. In 2003, belt compliance was 79.4 percent with 257 unbelted deaths. In 2008, belt use was 86.7 percent, 150 unbelted deaths. Last year, belt use was 93.6 percent, 116 unbelted deaths, according to the DPS.
Other OTS highlights:
Belt use was above 90 percent in all vehicles except pickups, which are historically low, but improved to 86.8 percent in June, up from 76 percent in 2008, according to the OTS.
Females used seat belts 97.5 percent of the time, compared to 92.6 percent for males. Both rates are up from 2012 that saw 95.6 percent females and 91.9 percent males using seat belts.
Belt use rates vary with age-99.4 percent ages up to 10, 99.2 percent ages 11 to 15, 92.8 percent 16 to 29, 95.4 percent 30 to 64, and 93.7 percent, age 65 and older.
Seat belt use data was collected at 240 sites in 43 counties based on where 85 percent of the state's road deaths occurred on average from 2007 through 2009. In June, 16,436 front seat occupants were observed.
The OTS projects 410 traffic deaths in 2013, up from 395 in 2012.
On Aug. 26, OTS issued the 2012 Minnesota Impaired Driving Facts report, citing 104 drunk driving deaths for the year, down from 111 in 2011, and representing 100 fewer drunk driving deaths from a decade ago.
For more information, visit https//dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/educational-materials/Documents/IMPAIRED-DRIVING-FACTS-2012.pdf
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com).