An estimated 68 Minnesotans' lives were saved over the last two years since enactment of the state’s primary seatbelt law, which allows law enforcement officials to ticket a driver solely for not wearing a seatbelt.
At the request of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), the University of Minnesota’s Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS) at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs conducted an analysis of the new law and concluded that between the time the law went into effect in June of 2009 through June of 2011 there had been:
• 68 fewer deaths;
• 320 fewer severe injury crashes, and 432 fewer moderate injury crashes (minor
injuries increased by 442);
• A reduction of $45 million in negative economic impacts, including nearly $10
million by taxpayers in expenses charged to government health insurers.
The CERS analysis compared the crash outcomes in the two years since the law was implemented with what would have happened had the law not changed, and all other factors remained as they were previously.
“The stronger seat belt law is keeping a lot of Minnesotans out of hospitals and morgues, and it will continue to do so for years to come,” said CERS Director Lee Munnich. “But we still have too many Minnesotans injured or killed every year because they are not wearing seatbelts, so we have more work to do.”
Since 1986, Minnesota has had a secondary seat belt law, which allows law enforcement officers to ticket for failure to wear seat belts, but only when there is another citable traffic violation. In June 2009, Minnesota implemented a primary seat belt law, which allows officers to ticket drivers for not wearing a seatbelt without any other traffic law being broken. As law enforcement officials had more authority to enforce seat belt laws, self-reported seat belt use increased from 85% before the law to 92% after the law (2011).
“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. “The findings of this study remind us again how vital it is for Minnesotans to buckle up—every seat, every ride.”
Minnesotans’ support for the primary seat belt law is strong, and growing. According to DPS surveys, 62% of Minnesotans supported the law prior to its passage, and 70% supported it two years after passage.
“The more the law is enforced, the more belts are worn, the more lives are saved,” said Munnich. “We know how to save lives, we just have to keep it up.”
Primary seat belt laws are one of the top six public policies that CERS has identified as being the most effective ways of saving lives on rural roadways, where a disproportionate number of fatalities occur. The others are sobriety checkpoints, motorcycle helmet mandate, graduated driver’s licenses, automated speed enforcement, and breathalyzer-based ignition locks.
“The I35W bridge collapse was a heartbreaking catastrophe that none of us will ever forget, because we lost 13 lives that day,” said Munnich. “This law is quietly preventing the equivalent of more than two such tragedies every year, and Minnesota’s lawmakers, safety advocates and law enforcement officers deserve a lot of credit for that.”
CERS provides citizen-centered research, training, and outreach to enhance rural safety and to meet the needs of rural transportation practitioners and policymakers. It operates as a joint venture of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and
Center for Transportation Studies.