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Editorial - Facts to ponder before driving away

If you're not buckling up each and every time you get inside a vehicle, consider this:

Eight of Minnesota's first 10 motorists who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012 were not wearing a seat belt, according to preliminary reports from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

Although more people routinely buckle up today than say a decade ago, there is still plenty of room for improvement. DPS also reports a poor belt use period in December 2011. Preliminary reports from last month indicate 23 motorists were killed and only five were known to be buckled up.

"These crash victims are reasons every Minnesotan must remind loved ones to buckle up," said Lieutenant Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol.

If you think you're a good driver, that accidents happen to "other people" so there's no real reason to buckle up, the cold hard numbers should give you pause: Between 2006 and 2010, there were 3,384 motor vehicle crashes in Douglas County. Twenty-six people lost their lives - eight of them weren't wearing a seat belt.

Remember, it's not only for safety, it's the law. In Minnesota, drivers and passengers in every seat must be belted. Law enforcement will ticket unbelted drivers and passengers.

The DPS offers the following seat belt facts and tips:

• Each year, more than half of the motorists killed in Minnesota crashes aren't belted - translating to more than 150 deaths and 400 serious injuries annually. Eighty percent of the unbelted deaths occur on Greater Minnesota roads.

• Seat belts restrain motorists in the vehicle's designed protective space, giving them room to live in the event of a crash. Seat belts also keep a motorist correctly positioned behind the wheel.

• In rollover crashes, unbelted motorists are usually ejected from the vehicle - in most cases, the vehicle will roll over them. In less severe crashes, an unbelted motorist will crack teeth out on the steering wheel or break their nose, and even slam into and injure others in the vehicle.

• Wear lap belts low and snug across the hips; shoulder straps should never be tucked under an arm or behind the back - not only is this unsafe, it is illegal.

• Children younger than age 13 should always ride in the back seat. Children who have outgrown a forward-facing harness restraint should ride in a booster seat until they are 4-feet 9-inches tall.

• Pregnant women should wear the lap belt under the stomach, as low on the hips as possible and against the upper thighs. The shoulder belt should rest between the breasts.

• Airbags are designed to work with seat belts to keep vehicle occupants in a safe position during a crash - airbags are not effective when the motorist is not belted.

Douglas County drivers and passengers should think about these things when they're out and about this slippery winter season - and then take the extra two seconds to click their seat belt in place.