The Michigan State Police’s Office of Highway Safety Planning announced in a release today that seat belt usage in the Mitten state has decreased to 92.6%, its lowest rate in 17 years, according to an annual study conducted by the agency. The study, based on direct observations of drivers, also noted a decline in the rate of usage of handheld electronic devices, from the 7.5% observed in 2019 to the 6.4% in 2021. It was cancelled in 2020 because of COVID– which, ironically, saw a substantial increase in the rate of traffic fatalities, even though the rate of driving and congestion overall decreased. Drivers were driving faster and more recklessly with fewer people on the roads.
More Traffic Deaths, Lower Seat Belt Usage
This trend continues. Road fatalities are still on the rise– the 1,083 fatalities in 2020 marked a 10% increase from the 985 in 2019, and was the most since 2007, when a record 1,084 people were killed on roads in Michigan. And seat belt usage, according to the agency, peaked in 2009 at 97.9%. What’s the deal with this decline, though?
Is it a red-state-blue-state thing? To some degree, maybe. It could certainly be an urban-rural thing. We can look at state trends, as collected by the NHTSA. South Dakota has a pitiful 75% rate, while Nebraska’s is higher at 79%. New Hampshire is a consistently abysmal performer, with numbers in the 60’s and 70’s. These are all pretty rural states, though– where a trip’s distance is measured not by miles, but by the number of light beers you can drink in your F150 between here and there- so this tracks, right? “No gubmint telling me what to do!” Live Free OR Die? Why limit yourself instead of just doing both?
But it’s not so clear-cut. We often have stereotypes of specific states having better or worse drivers. Massachusetts comes to mind: It has one of the lowest rates of seat belt usage among blue states at 81.6%. Compare to bluer Minnesota (93.4%), Oregon (95.7%) or New York (94.2%). Even Florida handily outperforms the Bay State– with numbers consistently in the upper 80’s. However, going back to the issue of traffic fatalities? The leaders are all pretty deep in the red game, with the notable exception of perhaps New Mexico. South Carolina leads the country in traffic fatalities per 100,000 population, followed by Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona, West Virginia, and Alaska.