U study: Minn. primary seat belt law helped reduce traffic deaths

Traffic safety press conference
Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman Grey (at podium), Dr. David Dries, chief of surgery at Regions Hospital (far left), Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel (near left) and University of Minnesota researcher Frank Douma (far right) discuss traffic safety at a press conference on Monday, March 26, 2012.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Dunbar

A University of Minnesota study says the number of traffic deaths in the state has dropped much lower than it would have thanks to a new seat belt law.

The primary seat belt law enacted nearly three years ago allows lawmakers to stop and ticket drivers for not wearing a seat belt even if the driver isn't doing anything else wrong.

According to the study, the law resulted in 68 fewer deaths and 320 fewer severe injuries from 2009 to 2011.

Lt. Col. Matt Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol said he expects the number of seat belt tickets to go down as more people wear their seat belts. Compliance was at 93 percent last year compared to 87 percent in 2008.

"We've really focused on the education and enforcement aspects, getting that voluntary compliance up, which is in turn what will hopefully drive our enforcement numbers down," Langer said. "We don't enjoy writing seat belt tickets; it's just one of the tools we use to get compliance up."

Fewer than 400 people died on Minnesota roads last year — the lowest number since 1944.

State Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said seat belts aren't the only factor bringing down the number of road fatalities.

"It's because of a collection of things that we did, from the engineering community, from enforcement, from education to emergency medical services," he said. "Now that this law has proven it continues to drive these numbers downward, we think we can still continue down that trend line."

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