MSU study shows declining seat belt use in Michigan

Fewer motorists in Michigan are taking care to buckle up in their vehicles, state officials advise.

Michigan’s seat belt use rate declined slightly in 2023, to its lowest level in almost two decades, according to results from a grant-funded direct observation study done by Michigan State University.

Michigan’s statewide seat belt use rate in 2023 was 92.4%, down 0.5 from the 92.9% in 2022. Results from the 2023 study, which took place between May and July, mark the lowest seat belt use rate since 2004, when it was 90.5%.

Every 1% increase in seat belt use means an estimated 10 fewer traffic deaths and 100 fewer serious injuries, the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning stated in a news release.

“Seat belts are the foundation of every effective traffic safety strategy and one of the easiest things drivers and passengers can do to be safe,” said Katie Bower, OHSP director. “Michigan was once a leading state in seat belt use. It should give all Michiganders pause to see that our state’s seat belt use rate continues to decrease — an alarming two percentage points since 2019. Drivers and passengers of all ages must buckle up, every trip, every time.”

According to the study, five of the Upper Peninsula’s 15 counties have some of the lowest seat belt use rates in the state, with Keweenaw County leading the way at only 75.0% and Gogebic, Ontonagon, Baraga, Iron and Schoolcraft counties at between 79.2% and 84.2%. In comparison, lower Michigan has only two counties that rate below 85%. To see a map with seat belt use rates by county, go to https://www.michigan.gov/msp/-/media/Project/Websites/msp/ohsp/1_October-2023/OHSP-Safety-Belt-Use-Rate-Maps—September-2023.pdf.

Not wearing a seat belt wasn’t the only dangerous practice increasing in the state. Michigan’s 2023 direct observation survey also included driver use of electronic devices, encompassing talking and/or typing. The rate of drivers using an electronic device was 8.3%, a 2.2% increase from the 6.1% rate in 2022, according to OHSP. “Since much of the seat belt survey was conducted before Michigan’s hands-free law took effect on June 30, we are looking forward to next year’s results to see the impact the new law has had on traffic safety,” Bower said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the nationwide seat belt use rate was 91.6 percent in 2022. The NHTSA requires states to conduct annual seat belt observation surveys to determine belt usage.

The OHSP has produced two videos, “Perfect World” and “Something Stops You,” to help raise awareness and educate drivers about the importance of using their seat belts.

It’s also the law: Michigan requires drivers, front-seat passengers and passengers age 15 and younger in any seating position to be buckled up. The fine and associated costs for not wearing a seat belt is $65, according to OHSP.

So avoid a ticket — and perhaps serious injury or death — by putting that seat belt on when in a vehicle.


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