N.W. Minnesota teens buckle up less often than many state peersWhile statistical mapping by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety shows that teen seat belt use in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area is above average, use lags in the state’s northwestern, southeastern and southwestern corners.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
Despite recent gains in use of seat belts across Minnesota, teens in the northwestern part of the state aren’t buckling up as much as their peers elsewhere, state officials report.
Teens historically have been least inclined of all age groups to use seat belts. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety says that low compliance rate helps explain why traffic fatalities are the leading cause of teen deaths — greater than the next four leading causes combined.
While statistical mapping by the department shows that teen seat belt use in the seven-county metro area is above average, use lags in the state’s northwestern, southeastern and southwestern corners.
“That is our experience,” said Capt. Dick Wittenberg, who supervises the State Patrol’s northwestern Minnesota district based in Thief River Falls.
“Part of it is that age-old thing that teens think they’re going to live forever, and they don’t think about what can happen.”
From 2005 through 2009, according to a study conducted by the department, 201 people between the ages of 13 and 19 were killed on Minnesota roads while driving or riding with a teen driver. Sixty percent of those killed were not wearing their seat belts.
In six counties of northwestern Minnesota — Mahnomen, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake and Roseau — traffic accidents claimed eight lives in 2009. Of those killed, five were not wearing belts. That included both fatalities registered in Polk County and both fatalities in Pennington, according to state figures.
Of the 21 people who suffered severe injuries in accidents in the six counties, nine were not wearing seat belts.
In southeastern Minnesota, 30 teen drivers and passengers were killed from 2005 to 2009, and two-thirds were not wearing belts, according to state figures. And in April 2010, three teenage girls died when they were thrown from their vehicle near Lewiston, Minn.
A statewide seat belt enforcement campaign continues through next week, and authorities are urging parents to encourage children to make buckling up a habit.
“Seat belts are the simplest and most effective way to prevent death or injury in a crash — especially on roads plagued with speeding, distracted and impaired drivers,” the department’s traffic safety office says on its Internet web site (http://www.dps.state.mn).
Since June 2009, Minnesota’s seat belt law has been a primary offense, meaning law enforcement officers will stop and ticket motorists for seat belt violations. Drivers and passengers all must be buckled up or in appropriate child restraints.
“We’re seeing improvement in seat belt use across the board, and the primary law is definitely part of that,” the State Patrol’s Wittenberg said.
He said it’s unfortunate that seat belt use tends to lag in rural areas.
“In the metro area, with all that traffic, people get nervous and figure they’d better buckle up,” he said. “Out on our country roads, where you might only meet five or six cars on your drive, they don’t think it’s that urgent. They feel more comfortable driving here.
“Unfortunately, rural areas tend to be more dangerous. That’s mainly because we have two-lane roads, with traffic in both directions, and lots of intersections. When you meet another car, you’re going a combined speed of 110 or 120 miles an hour, and you’re only four or five feet apart when you meet. You’re putting a lot of faith in that other driver.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to email@example.com.