While Minnesota drivers continue to adjust to the new Hands Free Driving laws that were established at the beginning of August, they can be proud to know that the state has seen an increase in seat belt usage in recent years.

QuoteWizard by LendingTree, LLC based in Seattle, Wash., conducted a study by analyzing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Their analysts found Minnesota ranks 6th in the state for highest increase in seat belt usage. Usage went up by 54% over the years 2000-2017. 

Adam Johnson, data analyst with QuoteWizard, provided a possible explanation for the increase in usage for Minnesota. 

“With most states around the country seeing an increase in seat belt usage, you really have to give credit to law enforcement for upholding stricter seatbelt laws,” Johnson said. “Public campaigns like ‘Click It or Ticket’ are effective at increasing seat belt usage.”

California is currently number one in the states for seat belt usage, while Massachusetts has the lowest rate. North Dakota saw the biggest increase in usage, but still has the 7th lowest seat belt usage. States that saw a decrease in seat belt usage included Wyoming, Oregon and Hawaii. 

Emily Lamb, public relations specialist with QuoteWizard, said, “The result of using a seat belt is static across the board though: It reduces crash-related death and injuries by half. According to the CDC, in 2010, non-fatal crash injuries to drivers and passengers resulted in over $48 billion in lifetime medical and work-loss costs. States such as Minnesota has seen a significant increase in seat belt usage thanks to many effective safety initiatives.”

Grand Rapids Chief of Police, Scott Johnson reminded that seat belt usage is a concern for all communities. 

“There is a financial cost to everyone when those who are injured and maimed in vehicle crashes incur medical bills. The proof is in the insurance rates that we all pay. 

Fortunately, most people do actually wear seatbelts,” Scott said. “I think this is due to three things. One, parents set the example for children who then tend to buckle up when they come of driving age. Two, education as to the consequences of not wearing seat belts. Three, no tolerance in enforcement.”

The use of a seatbelt is incredibly important in the case of potentially fatal car crashes. 

“Statistics show that more than 50% of teens and adults who died in crashes in 2016 were not buckled at the time of the accident,” Lamb said. “But because different areas have varying laws, seat belt usage rates differ from state to state.”

One explanation of the high usage of seat belts in California may be the strict laws the state has in place. 

“Passengers who are 16 years of age and over are subject to California’s Mandatory Seat Belt law. According to California State Law, children must be seated in the rear seat of a vehicle in an appropriate car seat or booster seat until they are eight years old or 4’9” tall. Children must remain in a rear-facing car seat until they weigh 40 pounds or more or are at least 40 inches tall,” Adam said. 

California also has one of the highest costs for seat belt tickets: The minimum ticket cost of an adult seat belt violation in California is $162 and up, and a minimum of $465 for not properly restraining a child under 16. If the parent is not in the car, the driver gets the ticket. In comparison, in the state of Minnesota, law enforcement will stop and ticket unbelted drivers or passengers. A seat belt ticket is $25 but can cost more than $100 with fees.

Adam continued, “Based on these findings, increasing the cost of seat belt tickets could possibly help increase the rate of seat belt usage in the state.”

While the severity of the laws may play a factor, Scott offered another perspective.

“It is not the severity of penalty that discourages people from breaking the law…it is certainly of getting caught,” Scott said. “If Grand Rapids Police Officers see that a driver is not buckled up, there is no question, the driver will receive an invitation to court in the form of a traffic ticket. Seat belts save lives.”

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