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State seat belt compliance continues to climb

ST. PAUL - Minnesota's new seat belt compliance rate is 93.6 percent, marking another increase in belt use which has resulted in fewer unbelted deaths, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety. DPS conducted its annual observational belt use survey in June.

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.

The announcement of the new seat belt use rate comes during a statewide Click It or Ticket seat belt enforcement campaign that runs through Oct. 26.

"The continued increase in belt use reflects a growing culture of safety on our roads that will lead to fewer tragedies," said DPS Commissioner Mona Dohman. "Yet the issue remains serious considering more than 100 people are killed annually who were not buckled up and could be with us today."

As seat belt use has increased, unbelted deaths have dropped:

• 1986 (the year Minnesota first passed a seat belt law): Belt compliance was 20 percent; 280 unbelted deaths.

• 2003 (10 years ago): Belt compliance was 79.4 percent; 257 unbelted deaths.

• 2008 (five years ago): Belt use was 86.7 percent; 150 unbelted deaths.

• 2011: Belt use was 92.7 percent; 120 unbelted deaths.

Seat Belt Survey Results

• Data were collected at 240 sites in 43 counties (based on where 85 percent of the state's road deaths occurred on average, 2007-2009). 16,924 front seat occupants were observed.

• Belt use rate by vehicle type: SUV -- 95.9; Car -- 93.9; Van -- 93 percent; Pickup -- 87.2. Pickup occupant belt use is historically low, but has improved (up from 76 percent five years ago).

• Belt use rate by gender: Females -- 95.6 percent; Males -- 91.9 percent. This gap continues to close; 10 years ago, the gender gap was around 8 percent.

• Belt use rate by age: 0-10 -- 97.4 percent; 11-15 -- 84 percent; 16-29 -- 93.3 percent; 30-64 -- 94.1 percent; 65 and older -- 91.9 percent; While a great majority of children were observed riding in car seats, officials note that car seat clinics report three in four car seats are used incorrectly. Belt use is low among 11-15 year olds: During the past five years, 31 were killed, only nine were belted.

Greater Minnesota Regional Seat Belt Surveys

In addition to the annual statewide belt survey, Toward Zero Deaths partners conduct separate, Greater Minnesota regional belt use surveys to measure belt use progress at a local level. Officials stress that the regional surveys are unrelated to the statewide survey and cannot be compared to the statewide results. The statewide survey provides a comprehensive gauge of statewide belt use, while the regional surveys have a smaller sample size and aim to provide an additional snapshot of belt use to measure local progress.

• West Central Minnesota: 78.8 percent (first-time regional belt use survey); Counties observed - Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Mahnomen, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse, Wilkin.

• South central Minnesota: 84.7 percent, up from 73.2 percent in 2011; Blue Earth, Brown, Cottonwood, Faribault, Jackson, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Nobles, Rock, Sibley, Waseca and Watonwan.

Northwest Minnesota: 73.9 percent, up from 65.8 percent in 2011; Counties observed (June 2012) --Beltrami, Clearwater, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, and Roseau.