State reports record seatbelt use, but Mower lags average

Published 10:28am Thursday, October 17, 2013

Motorists and passengers in Minnesota are buckling up at record rates, but Mower County commuters still fall behind the state average.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety, results from annual observational seat belt use survey — conducted in June — show a 94.8 percent seat belt use rate within the state. That marks a more than 15 percent increase in belt use since 2003; up from 93.6 percent in 2012. While local motorists are buckling up more frequently as well, seat belt use in Mower County was at about 87 percent after this year’s surveys, according to Austin Police Capt. Dave McKichan.

“Although our numbers are better than they would’ve been four or five years ago, we’re still below the state average,” McKichan said.

McKichan can’t fully explain why Mower County seatbelt use lags behind state average, but factors such as rural roads, less traffic and shorter commutes may be reasons.

Like much of the state, local law enforcement agencies are in the midst of another Click It or Ticket campaign, which runs through Oct. 19. McKichan notices an increase in seatbelt use directly after each campaign. Before the May campaign, seatbelt use was at 78 percent locally, and jumped 9 percent afterward.

The DPS data show a relationship between seatbelt use and fewer traffic deaths. In 2003, seatbelt compliance was 79.4 percent with 257 unbelted traffic deaths. In 2012, 93.6 percent seatbelt use paired with 116 unbelted deaths.

“Every percentage point we can get to wear their seatbelt takes maybe 5 percent off our fatality number,” McKichan said. “That’s why it’s such a big deal for the state to get as close to 100 percent as possible.”

DPS officials attribute the continued increase in seat belt use to awareness and enforcement of the state’s primary seat belt law, which became effective in June 2009.

Despite the increase in belt use, OTS officials say there is still room for improvement, noting the correlation between increased belt use and the decline of unbelted deaths.

“Seat belts save lives, and the increase in belt use is a positive sign that more and more people realize that,” says Donna Berger, OTS director. “However, more than 100 unbelted motorists and passengers are killed every year on Minnesota roads. We ask everyone to do their part to reduce these preventable tragedies by buckling up, every ride, every time.”

—Minnesota DPS contributed to this report.



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