More drivers, passengers in state buckling up

Michigan motorists, give yourself a pat on the back — or on the belt across your chest and waist.

The seat belt use rate rose this year, from 93.4% in 2018 to 94.4%, according to recently released results from a statewide, grant-funded observation study by Michigan State University.

Yes, it’s only a 1% increase. But look at it this way — it’s an improvement when 9 of 10 people already are buckling up when in a motor vehicle.

And state officials point out every 1% increase in seat belt use means an estimated fewer 10 traffic deaths and 100 fewer serious injuries.

“Traffic safety programs like Click It or Ticket are meant to reduce traffic deaths and lessen the impact of injuries,” said Michael L. Prince, director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

“This campaign continues to remind motorists about Michigan’s life-saving seat belt law. While the numbers are slowly heading in a positive direction, the goal is to keep moving toward zero deaths on our roadways.”

While encouraging, room remains for improvement — in 2009, the state posted a record high belt-use rate of 97.9% in 2009, then saw use decline to 93% in 2013.

Even the 94.4% figure this year is only the highest mark since 2016.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2018 seat belt use in the United States ranged from 76.4% in New Hampshire to 97.8% in Hawaii. The nationwide seat belt use rate was 89.6% in 2018.

The NHTSA requires states to conduct annual seat belt observation surveys to determine belt usage.

The direct observation survey also included driver use of electronic devices, encompassing both talking with a handheld or hands-free device and/or typing. That rate, unfortunately, was slightly higher at 7.5% than last year’s 7.1%.

So, Michigan, the challenge has been thrown down for 2020. Put on that seat belt — and stay off that phone or other electronic device.