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Bruce Gordon, Director of Communications
Bruce Gordon  (651_ 201-7171
March 26, 2012
Minnesota's Primary Seat Belt Law Saves Lives, Money
U of M study: 68 fewer deaths, $45 million in avoided medical costs in two years

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s primary seat belt law resulted in 68 fewer deaths and 320 fewer severe injuries from 2009 to 2011, according to a new study released today by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

The study, conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS) on behalf of DPS, also found that the reduction in deaths and injuries has resulted in $45 million dollars in avoided hospital charges, including nearly $10 million in taxpayer dollars that would have paid for Medicare and Medicaid charges.

“The primary seat belt law has advanced traffic safety in Minnesota by saving lives and preventing serious injuries,” Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman said. “The findings of this study reminds us again how vital it is for Minnesotans to buckle up — every seat, every ride.”

“As Minnesota continues its efforts to move roadway deaths towards zero, this research shows that seat belts are a critical tool in that effort,” said MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel. “There are many people alive today, in Minnesota as well as across the country, thanks to seat belts.”

Minnesota’s primary seat belt law went into effect in June 2009. Prior to that, not wearing a seat belt was a secondary offense, which allowed law enforcement officers to ticket for failure to wear seat belts, but only when there was another moving violation.

Under the primary seat belt law, officers can ticket drivers for not wearing a seat belt without any other law being broken. Currently, 32 states have primary seat belt laws.

The CERS Primary Seat Belt Law Study

CERS analyzed the impacts of the new law, examining the changes in roadway crash fatalities through June 2011. CERS also examined seat belt use data and survey results that measured support for the law and found:

  • More Minnesotans are buckling up since the primary law went into effect. Observed seatbelt use in the state has increased from 87 percent in 2008 to 93 percent in 2011.

  • A survey of Minnesotans shows the support of the law increased from 62 percent just before the law was passed to over 70 percent since it was passed

“The stronger seat belt law is keeping a lot of Minnesotans out of hospitals and morgues, and it will continue to do so for years to come,” said CERS Director Lee Munnich.  “But we still have too many Minnesotans injured or killed every year because they are not wearing seatbelts, so we have more work to do.”

Toward Zero Deaths

Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) is a Minnesota partnership led by DPS, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Health, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, Minnesota county engineers, and the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.

TZD is focused on advancing traffic safety and preventing deaths and injuries on Minnesota’s roads through education, enforcement, engineering and emergency trauma response

TZD uses increased enforcement targeting seat belt use, speeding and impaired driving; paid media and outreach efforts to educate communities; MnDOT engineering enhancements; and improved emergency medical and trauma response that increases the chances of survival for crash victims, especially in rural communities.

Minnesota Traffic Deaths

Minnesota traffic deaths have dramatically decreased over the years as a result of TZD and other traffic safety initiatives. Traffic fatalities in the state are down nearly 40 percent from a decade ago and 2011 is the first year the state will be under 400 annual deaths since 1944.

Legislation passed in recent years has also helped reduce road fatalities, such as stronger teen graduated driver’s licensing laws, ban on texting/ emailing/web access, and the primary seat belt law and booster seat law requirement for children. In addition, stronger DWI sanctions became effective last year, requiring many DWI offenders to have ignition interlocks installed in vehicles in order to have driving privileges.

While deaths have been on the decline during the past decade, there has been a spike in deaths in 2012. Officials say the factors for the increase in deaths include the warmer winter which resulted in motorists traveling at faster, unsafe speeds, and lack of seat belt use. To date in 2012, there have been 66 deaths, compared to 47 at this time in 2011.

Seat Belt Background

  • 2010 (most recent final data) — Of the 305 vehicle occupants killed in 2010, just 148 were belted; 55 percent of those not belted were ejected.

  • The Minnesota primary seat belt law requires drivers and all passengers to be buckled up or in the correct child restraint or booster seat. Law enforcement officers may stop and ticket motorists for seat belt violations, including unbelted passengers.

  • Properly wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger occupants by 45 percent in a car and 60 percent in a light truck.

  • Seat belts are the most effective means of protecting oneself from injury while riding in a vehicle. In a crash, odds are six-times greater for injury if a motorist is not buckled up.

  • Annually, nearly 75 percent of unbelted traffic deaths occur on Greater Minnesota roads.

  • Minnesotans that are least likely to buckle up and more likely to die in crashes are young drivers, particularly males and residents in Greater Minnesota. Each year, motorists ages 15–29 account for about 40 percent of all unbelted deaths and 50 percent of all unbelted serious injuries, yet this group represents only 24 percent of all licensed drivers.

  • Children under age 13 should always ride in the back seat. Children who have outgrown a forward-facing harness restraint should ride in a booster seat until they are 4-feet 9-inches tall.  

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