Troy Christianson

Tragedy leads to 10 years of saving lives with primary seat belt law

Ask A Trooper

Out of the tragedy of one teen’s death comes life-saving change for Minnesotans statewide. For Kathy Cooper, her family’s efforts to strengthen Minnesota’s seat belt law began after her daughter Meghan’s unbelted death. Their advocacy is saving lives.

In 2009 the state’s primary seat belt law took effect in honor of Meghan. It is helping contribute to fewer unbuckled people dying in traffic crashes.

The Click It or Ticket campaign, which runs May 20 through June 2, reminds motorists that seat belts and car seats will protect them in a crash. The Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (DPS-OTS) coordinates the extra enforcement and education campaign, which involves deputies, officers and troopers from more than 300 law enforcement agencies statewide.

Primary Seat Belt Law — ten years of saving lives

The state’s primary seat belt law, which requires drivers and passengers in all seating positions to buckle up or be seated in the correct child restraint, took effect on June 9, 2009, in honor of Meghan Cooper. The 15-year-old died in 1999 after being ejected in a crash from the rear seat of a car. She was not wearing a seat belt.

“After Meghan’s death, I was tormented with ‘why did this happen,’ said Kathy Cooper. “I learned that to help prevent others from facing my heart-breaking reality, the seat belt law had to change. My family joined with others to change the law so that every person in every seat must give themselves a chance to survive a crash by buckling up. From my perspective, Meghan gave her life to save so many.”

There has been progress in people getting safely home since Minnesota passed the primary seat belt law 10 years ago.

•A year prior to the primary seat belt law (2008), 152 unbelted motorists lost their lives on Minnesota roads. In 2018 preliminary numbers show that number decreased to 92.

•In the five years (2004-2008) leading up to the law, 51 percent of all fatalities (1,008) were known to be unbelted motorists. In the last five years (2014-2018), that number decreased to 34 percent (446).

“We talk about Minnesotans needing to ‘speak up’ to promote safety on the road, and that’s exactly what Kathy Cooper’s family and other advocates did with seat belts,” said Mike Hanson, Office of Traffic Safety director. “Laws help. Enforcement helps. Education helps. And speaking up directly with your friends and family about buckling up is just as important. Working together, we can all save lives on Minnesota roads.”

Join the crowd

Fortunately most Minnesotans are making the life-saving decision to buckle up. Only eight percent of Minnesotans are risking it all by riding unbelted. According to the 2018 Minnesota Seat Belt Survey, 92.4 percent of front seat occupants are wearing their seat belts.

For those choosing not to buckle up, the results are tragically hurting families across Minnesota. In a five-year period (2014–2018), 446 unbelted motorists lost their lives and 981 people suffered life-changing injuries on Minnesota roads.

Speak up about buckling up

An unbelted motorist can crash into a windshield and get thrown into other passengers. Oftentimes, an unbelted occupant is ejected from the vehicle and killed.

Drivers are in charge of their vehicles and of the safety of their passengers. They can refuse to start the car until every passenger is belted. Passengers also can speak up if the driver is endangering everyone in the vehicle by not buckling up.

It’s the law

Minnesota law states that drivers and passengers in all seating positions must be buckled up or seated in the correct child safety seat. Officers will stop and ticket unbelted drivers or passengers. Seat belts must be worn correctly — low and snug across the hips, and shoulder straps should never be tucked under an arm or behind the back.

Minnesota Child Car Seat Law and Steps

In Minnesota all children must be in a child restraint until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall, or at least age 8, whichever comes first.

•Rear-facing seats: All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they have reached the height and weight limits allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

•Forward-facing seats with harness: Toddlers and preschoolers who have reached the height and weight limits of the rear-facing car seat should use a forward-facing seat with harness until they reach the weight limit of the harness allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

•Booster seats: For school-age children who have reached the height and weight limits of the forward-facing seat. The booster must be used with a lap and shoulder belt.

*Seat belts: For children 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. Your child is ready for an adult seat belt when they can sit with their back against the vehicle seat, knees bent comfortably and completely over the vehicle seat edge without slouching, and feet touching the floor.

About the Minnesota Department Public Safety

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) comprises 11 divisions where 2,100 employees operate programs in the areas of law enforcement, crime victim assistance, traffic safety, alcohol and gambling, emergency communications, fire safety, pipeline safety, driver licensing, vehicle registration and emergency management. DPS activity is anchored by three core principles: education, enforcement and prevention.


About the Office of Traffic Safety

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (DPS-OTS) designs, implements and coordinates federally funded traffic safety enforcement and education programs to improve driver behaviors and reduce the deaths and serious injuries that occur on Minnesota roads. DPS-OTS also administers state funds for the motorcycle safety program and for child seats for the needy families program.

DPS-OTS is an anchoring partner of the state’s Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) traffic safety program. A primary vision of the TZD program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior. TZD focuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes — education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency medical and trauma response.


Recent DPS-OTS activity and statistics

•During the extra distracted driving enforcement campaign, officers, deputies and troopers cited 1,927 motorists for texting and driving during the three-week campaign (April 8-30), compared with 1,576 cited during last year’s two-week campaign.

•Continuing a six-year trend, texting and driving citations climbed 30 percent from 2017 to 2018 with 9,545 tickets written by law enforcement statewide in 2018, according to Minnesota court records.





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