MDOT: Seat belts used less, cellphones more in 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Transportation says drivers and passengers wore seat belts less frequently in 2023 than they did in 2022.

Across the state, the seat belt use rate in 2023 was 92.4%, MDOT announced Tuesday in a release. This marks the lowest rate since 2004, according to the department. It’s also a slight drop from 2022, when 92.9% of Michigan drivers and passengers wore seat belts.

MDOT says a 1% increase in seat belt use means 10 fewer traffic deaths and 100 fewer serious injuries.

“Seat belts are the foundation of every effective traffic safety strategy and one of the easiest things drivers and passengers can do to be safe,” Katie Bower, director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, said in a statement. “Michigan was once a leading state in seat belt use. It should give all Michiganders pause to see that our state’s seat belt use rate continues to decrease — an alarming 2 percentage points since 2019.”

In West Michigan, the 2023 seat belt use rate in most counties was slightly lower than the statewide average of 92.4%, according to data released by MDOT. Ottawa and Oceana counties, at 94.8% and 92.9%, were the exception.

  • Kent: 88.7%

  • Muskegon: 88.7%

  • Ottawa: 94.8%

  • Kalamazoo: 91.9%

  • Calhoun: 89.5%

  • Van Buren: 90.1%

  • St. Joseph: 87.9%

  • Branch: 87.6%

  • Allegan: 91.2%

  • Barry: 90.2%

  • Ionia: 91.3%

  • Montcalm: 91.7%

  • Newaygo: 90.4%

  • Oceana: 92.9%

As a general rule, MDOT says rural northern counties had the lowest seat belt use rates.

The data comes from a direct observation study conducted between May and July by Michigan State University.

Researchers also collected information about electronic device use, which includes talking and typing. According to MDOT, 8.3% of Michigan drivers used devices in 2023 — a jump from 2022, which had a 6.1% rate.

Much of the survey was conducted before Michigan’s hands-free law went into effect, MDOT says.

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