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Minnesota's strengthened seat belt law appears to be saving lives, according to a University of Minnesota study released on Monday.

Fewer people have died or suffered injuries since 2009, when it became a "primary offense" not to wear a seat belt, the study said.

The study was conducted by the University of Minnesota's Center for Excellence in Rural Safety on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety.

Researchers said that from June 2009 through June 2011, there were 68 fewer deaths involving vehicle occupants, 320 fewer severe injuries and 432 fewer moderate injuries.

Under the law that took effect in mid-2009, officers can ticket drivers for not wearing a seat belt without any other law being broken. Before that, not wearing a seat belt was a secondary offense, which allowed officers to ticket for failure to wear seat belts, but only when there was another moving violation.

"The stronger seat belt law is keeping a lot of Minnesotans out of hospitals and morgues," Lee Munnich, director of the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety, said in a statement that accompanied release of the data.

Minnesota is one of 32 states that have primary seat belt laws.

The study also found that since the primary seat belt law took effect, observed seat belt use in the state increased from 87 to 93 percent and support of the law rose from 62 to 70 percent.