WILLMAR -- Seat belt use in southwest Minnesota is up 1.4 percent, according to a recent survey completed by a multi-agency effort of Toward Zero Deaths on our roadways.
The September 2012 survey shows a regional rate of 82.5 percent seat belt usage. In 2011, that same survey reported 81.1 percent of drivers and passengers were observed as wearing their seat belts.
The southwest region includes these counties: Big Stone, Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Murray, Pipestone, Redwood, Renville, Swift and Yellow Medicine.
The observational surveys were conducted the week of Sept. 17 to 23 at 36 randomly selected sites. county highway departments and the State Patrol were instrumental in conducting the surveys.
The Southwest Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths was established in 2007. The number one goal is to reduce fatal and serious injuries on roadways using education, enforcement, engineering and emergency services. Seat belt use is the single most important pre-crash factor in reducing injury severity.
"Most of us are aware that rural highways have a higher fatality rate than metro areas, explains Toward Zero Deaths Coordinator Amy Roggenbuck in a news release, "and if you are involved in a crash, you have a 45 percent greater chance of survival with a seat belt on.
"So even if you don't have far to go, which is a common excuse, buckle up," comments Roggenbuck.
The regional seat belt surveys are unrelated to the Department of Public Safety's annual statewide survey results announced recently and cannot be compared to the statewide results.
Statewide belt use is at a record high 93.6 percent, according to the Department of Public Safety. The statewide survey provides a comprehensive gauge of belt use by measuring counties where 85 percent of the state's road deaths occurred on average during the past three years, while the regional surveys have a smaller sample size and aim to provide an additional snapshot of belt use to measure local progress.
The regional results include an 85.1 percent usage rate for the east central counties of Benton, Cass, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright. The survey was the first ever conducted.
The survey found 80.5 percent usage rate by drivers and passengers in Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, Pine and St. Louis counties. The rate was 80.3 in 2011.
In the northwest Minnesota counties of Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, and Roseau, 73.9 percent usage, up for 65.8 percent in 2011.
In the southeastern Minnesota counties of Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha and Winona, the survey found 86.7 percent usage, up from 84.7 percent in 2011.
In the south central counties of Blue Earth, Brown, Cottonwood, Faribault, Jackson, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Nobles, Rock, Sibley, Waseca and Watonwan, seat belt usage was 84.7 percent, up from 73.2 percent in 2011.
Finally, in the west central counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Mahnomen, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse, and Wilkin, the survey found 77.3 percent seat belt usage. The survey was the first conducted.
Department of Public Safety data show that as seat belt usage has increased, traffic deaths have declined. In 1986, the first year Minnesota passed a seat belt law, belt compliance was 20 percent and 280 people who were unbelted in traffic crashes died as a result of those crashes.
In 2003, belt compliance was 79.4 percent and there were 257 deaths of unbelted drivers and passengers. Five years ago, in 2008, belt use was 86.7 percent and there were 150 unbelted deaths.
Statewide, seat belt use was 92.6 percent in 2011 and there were 120 unbelted deaths.