The latest study from Michigan State University shows that the state’s seat belt use rate has dropped to its lowest level in 17 years. Although more than 90 percent—92.6 percent to be precise—of Michigan residents still put one on before driving, officials are concerned that the number has decreased sharply. In 2019, nearly 95 percent of us were regularly using seat belts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires states to conduct annual seat belt observation surveys to determine belt usage. Last year’s study was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning says that seat belts are “the cornerstone of any effective traffic safety strategy” as long as drivers and passengers utilize them for every trip. Quickly turning those usage numbers around is important, the agency believes.

The survey results came just a few weeks after the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center confirmed that Michigan traffic deaths peaked above 1,000 for the first time in three years. The 1,083 fatalities in 2020 marked a 10 percent increase from 985 fatalities in 2019 and the most traffic fatalities in Michigan since 1,084 deaths in 2007. Preliminary statistics for early 2021 show the pace of fatalities accelerating.

Michigan’s all-time belt use record was 97.9 percent in 2009. Every 1 percent increase in seat belt use means an estimated 10 fewer traffic deaths and 100 fewer serious injuries.

According to NHTSA, seat belt use in the United States during 2019 ranged from 70.7 percent in New Hampshire to 97.1 percent in Hawaii. The nationwide seat belt use rate was 90.7 percent in 2019.

Fortunately, it appears that drivers are becoming more careful about limiting distractions while they’re behind the wheel. Michigan’s 2021 direct observation survey also included driver use of electronic devices, encompassing both talking with a handheld or hands-free device and/or typing. The rate has dropped to 6.4 percent, lower than the 7.5 percent rate in 2019.

It’s unfortunate whenever we write about traffic accidents that result in serious injury or death. Please do all you can—like buckling up and putting away devices—to arrive safe and sound at your destination.