October is now the deadliest month so far this year for traffic deaths in Minnesota for vehicle occupants who did not buckle up, state officials said Monday.

The preliminary tally for October is 15, according to the Department of Public Safety, topping 14 in August.

All of those deaths in October occurred outside the seven-county metro area, the department said.

The rate of seat belt use in Minnesota is at a record-high 93.6 percent, the agency said, based on an observational survey of more than 16,000 motorists. However, smaller-scale surveys put compliance outstate at about 80 percent.

The grim October tally came even though there was a two-week "Click It or Ticket" seat belt enforcement campaign during the month. More than 8,500 citations were given to motorists for violating the state's seat belt and child-restraint laws during the campaign. In a similar enforcement effort in October 2011, 9,999 motorists were cited.

So far this year in Minnesota, 87 vehicle occupants have died who were not properly restrained.

"Most Minnesota motorists make smart decisions and belt up, but a deadly month in October demonstrates that many still take an extreme risk by not buckling up," said Donna Berger, the Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety director. 

For 2009 through 2011, there have been 377 deaths of unbelted vehicle occupants out of a total of 878 who have died in vehicle accidents.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482