Law enforcement from across the state issued more than 1,500 citations to drivers for not wearing their seat belts during a two-week enforcement campaign in November.
A few of the 1,556 drivers who failed to buckle up were ticketed twice in the same day, including a woman in Virginia, Minn., and a man in St. Paul. Another motorist in St. Paul ticketed for not buckling up used his citation for identification when he was stopped the next day for the same offense, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said.
Another 52 motorists were cited for failing to properly restrain children in car seats during the campaign, which ran Nov. 16-29. The numbers were lower than in previous years, DPS said. Police issued more than 4,600 citations for seat belt violations in September 2018 and just over 4,400 in September last year. The numbers were lower than in previous years, DPS said.
One reason was reduced daylight in November. Detecting seat belt violations in low light is very difficult, said Mike Hanson, director of DPS' Office of Traffic Safety.
COVID-19 was a factor, too. Normally more than 300 agencies help with enforcement efforts. But with the pandemic limiting staffing, some agencies worked fewer hours on seat belt detail or did not participate in the campaign, Hanson said.
Traffic volume during the enforcement period was also down 25 to 30% compared with pre-COVID levels, Met Council data show. Minnesotans are generally pretty good at wearing seat belts: The 2019 Minnesota Seat Belt Survey found that 93.4% of front seat occupants were clicked in, according to DPS. But failure to wear a seat belt is still one of the leading causes of death on state roads, DPS said.
From Jan. 1 through Dec. 1, preliminary reports show 93 unbelted motorists have died in crashes, compared with 66 reported at this time last year. The 93 deaths involving unbelted motorists are the highest since 2014, when there were 94. Drivers between 15 and 39 years old have accounted for 40 of the 93 deaths, according to DPS. Minnesota law states that drivers and passengers in all seating positions must wear seat belts or be in the correct child restraint. A ticket costs $25 but can rise to more than $100 with court fees.
"Talk with anyone who's been in a crash and survived because of a seat belt. They know taking the two seconds to buckle up is why they're alive," Hanson said in a statement. "As a former trooper, I've seen those crashes and am amazed at how a simple seat belt can save so many people."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768