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Most Wadena fatal accidents were to unbelted motorists

Minnesota now has a primary seat belt law, which will be an essential tool to increase belt compliance and therefore have the biggest impact in limiting many Minnesota traffic tragedies that are simply preventable.

The necessity of the law is clear -- each year around 200 unbelted motorists are killed and more than 400 are seriously injured.

In Wadena County during 2006-08, 75 percent of fatal crashes were a result of unbelted motorists. Another five unbelted motorists were seriously inured. The primary law will greatly benefit traffic safety in greater Minnesota -- where 80 percent of unbelted deaths occur each year.

The primary law means drivers and passengers in all seating positions must be buckled up or in the correct child restraint, and that law enforcement can stop a vehicle directly for belt violations. Even if a passenger is not belted, law enforcement can stop a vehicle. A citation can cost from $25 to more than $100.

I want to stress that this law is first and foremost a law to ensure motorists are traveling safely. The facts are clear that a seat belt is your best defense in a crash -- especially when our roads are still threatened with speeding, distracted and impaired drivers. Wadena County Law Enforcement has seen the results of far too many crashes involving unbelted motorists and the deaths and injuries involved -- ranging from teeth busted out on the steering wheel to being ejected from the vehicle.

The true enforcement of this law begins with you. It's your role as a motorist to speak up and insist your passengers are buckled up. This is important not just because it's the law but for safety -- in a crash, unbelted passengers can slam into and injure or kill others in a vehicle.

We are now in the deadliest driving season in Minnesota. Let's have a safe summer on the roads, and remember that safety behind the wheel begins with buckling up.