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U of M study: Primary seat belt law saves lives and money

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 study released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety.

The study, conducted by the University of Minnesota's Center for Excellence in Rural Safety on behalf of the department, also found that the reduction in deaths and injuries has resulted in $45 million 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 in a news release. "The findings of this study reminds us again how vital it is for Minnesotans to buckle up -- every seat, every ride."

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 study examined the impacts of the new law by analyzing data on roadway crashes, fatalities and injuries from July 2004 through June 2011.

In 2008, there were 455 traffic deaths in the state and, in 2012, the preliminary number of fatalities is 366. However, to date in 2012, there have been 66 deaths, compared to 47 at this time in 2011.

The study also shows that a record high 93 percent of vehicle occupants are wearing their seat belts and 70 percent of Minnesotans surveyed support the law.