More than ever Americans are strapping on their seat belts when they hop into their cars.

A record 82 percent of Americans wear their safety belts while driving or riding in their vehicles, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta announced last Friday, an increase of two percentage points from last year. By comparison, about 58 percent of Americans buckled up in 1994, and 71 percent strapped themselves in by 2000, according to the Associated Press.

A scientific survey by the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that between 2004 and 2005, 10 percent of non-users adopted the habit of buckling their safety belts, Mineta said.

“The fact that safety belts save lives is starting to click with the American people,” Mineta said. “With safety belt usage at a record high 82 percent, we are on the road to a safer America. And today, we are closer than ever to reaching our final destination.”

At a rate of 82 percent, Mineta said, safety belts are preventing 15,700 fatalities, 350,000 serious injuries, and $67 billion in economic costs associated with traffic injuries and deaths every year. The increase in belt use over the past year alone has prevented 540 fatalities, 8,000 serious injuries, and $1.8 billion in economic costs, he added.

In response to the record safety belt usage, Phil Haseltine, Executive Director of the National Safety Council’s Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign, said, “With traffic crashes remaining a leading killer of Americans ages 3-33, we should remain focused on increasing belt use among the more hard-core non-users. This two-percentage point belt use increase shows one thing for certain: more people are getting the message — click it or ticket. We’re getting people buckled up and saving lives.”