When it comes to wearing seatbelts, Minnesotans are apparently getting the message.
A record 93.6 percent of motorists and passengers are complying with the state law that requires drivers and passengers to buckle up or be seated in a proper child restraint. That is a slight increase from 92.7 percent in 2011 and 86.7 percent just five years ago. Only 79 percent of motorists buckled up a decade ago, according to data released earlier this month by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
Still 120 motorists who were not wearing seat belts died on Minnesota roads last year. Another 231 were severely injured, the department's Office of Traffic Safety said.
Officials attribute the continued increase to awareness of the state's primary seat belt law, which went into effect in 2009. They also credit campaigns such as this month's statewide "Click It or Ticket" enforcement campaign, which wrapped up last Friday. The department also aired TV spots that claim that being involved in a crash while going 60 miles per hour and not wearing a seat belt is akin to falling from a 12-story building.
"The continued increase in belt use relfects a growing culture of safety on our roads that will lead to fewer tragedies," said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman. "The issue remains serious considering more than 100 people are kileld annually who were not buckled up and could be with us today."
Even with the continued improvement, there is still room for more. Drivers and passengers between 11 and 15 had the lowest compliance rate at 84 percent while ages 10 and younger had the highest rate of compliance at 97.4 percent. Vehicle occupants between 30 and 64 came in second at 94.1 percent, according the department's annual seat belt use survey of 16,924 front seat occupants conducted in June.
When it comes to vehicle type, occupants of SUVs at 95.9 percent were the most likely to wear seat belts. Those in vans buckled up 93.9 percent of the time while those in pickup trucks wore seat belts 87.2 percent of the time, the lowest of vehicle types included in the survey.
Females were more likely to wear seat belts than males, 95.6 percent to 91.9 percent.
Outside the metro area, the survey found that vehicle occupants in southeast Minnesota were most likely to wear seat belts (86.7 percent) while those in northwestern Minnesota the least likely (73.9 percent).The compliance rate was 85.1 percent in east central counties, 84.7 percent in south central counties, 82.5 percent in southwestern counties, 80.5 in northeastern counties and 78.8 percent in west central Minnesota. The metro area was not included in the survey.
So far 305 people have died on state roads this year, up from 279 at this time last year.
"Traffic deaths are spiking in 2012, and sadly, many deaths this year could have been prevented if the victim has buckled up," said Donna Berger, director of the Office of Traffic Safety.