With all the well-placed attention in recent years on distracted driving — in particular, texting and driving — and how it can result in blood, death, and loved ones’ tears, would you believe there are still an alarming number of Minnesotans not using seat belts?
Apparently we’re still not past that yet. Buckling up still isn’t a normalized safety precaution for far too many of us. Really? The results are too often as tragic as they are completely preventable. And it’s in spite of at least five decades of public-service announcements to “buckle up” or “click it or ticket,” as well as those grotesque, body parts-splattered drivers-ed videos of what happens when we don’t.
This year already, through April 22, unbelted motorists have died in crashes 31 times, according to state stats. It’s the highest year-to-date number of unbelted traffic fatalities since 2012. And it follows “a deadly 2020,” in the words of the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office. Last year, in spite of less driving due to the pandemic, 112 unbelted motorists were killed on Minnesota’s roads and highways, which also was the highest tally since 2012.
The numbers and trend are so troubling, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is coordinating two weeks of extra seat-belt patrols today through June 6. The Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, Cloquet Police Department, and Fond du Lac Tribal Police Department are among law enforcement agencies statewide participating.
No one should need to be pulled over and ticketed to be reminded how common-sense basic buckling up is in order to avoid a tragedy.
And most Minnesotans do get it. The 2019 Minnesota Observational Seat Belt Survey found that 93.4% of front-seat occupants in the state wear seat belts. “The rest are gambling with their lives and the lives of others in the vehicle by riding unbelted,” the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office said in a prepared statement last week.
Also encouraging, while 4,176 vehicle occupants suffered severe injuries in traffic crashes in 1987, that number dropped to 1,056 by 2020.
But far too many not only aren’t buckling up, modeling good behavior for younger Minnesotans, they’re not taking the time nor making the effort to properly use child restraints or to teach children the necessity of seat-belt laws. From 2016 to 2020, 20 children in Minnesota under age 8 were killed in motor vehicles, eight of whom were not properly restrained; for four others, it wasn’t clear. Another 87 Minnesota kids were seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes, and more than half of them were not properly secured, according to state figures.
Meanwhile, in crashes from 2016 through 2020, of the 15,670 children under 8 who were properly restrained, 88% were uninjured, and another 9% sustained only possible injuries.
Those of us living outside the Twin Cities can further consider this: 79% of last year’s 112 unbelted traffic fatalities happened outside the seven-county metro area.
So, a few days ahead of travel-heavy Memorial Day weekend, this reminder from the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office: “Minnesota law states that drivers and passengers in all seating positions must wear seat belts or be in the correct child restraint. Occupants must correctly wear seat belts low and snug across the hips, and they should never tuck straps under an arm or behind the back.”
If that’s not enough of a reminder, be prepared to be pulled over, especially now through June 6. And be prepared to be ticketed and pay a fine that very well may save your life.