State public safety officials are reminding motorists to buckle-up after an alarming trend during the first month of the year. Sixteen people were killed in traffic crashes on Iowa roads in January.

That’s five fewer deaths than in 2009. But, Mark Nagel with the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau says at least 10 motorists who died in crashes last month weren’t wearing a safety belt. “We have a seat belt compliance (rate) of 93% in Iowa, which is very high compared to the rest of the country,” Nagel said.

“So, we’re puzzled with, all of the sudden, all of these fatalities with unbelted passengers and drivers in cars.” In two of the fatal crashes last month, investigators were not able to determine if the people killed were wearing seat belts. Over the last five years, just under 32% of the motorists who died in crashes on Iowa roads weren’t wearing a safety belt.

Nagel says buckling up is the “single most effective thing” a motorist can do to protect themselves in the event of a crash. “And our vehicles are highly engineered these days,” Nagel said, “With the use of airbags and seat belts, you really can make yourself pretty safe in a car. Why people aren’t taking advantage of those advancements, it’s pretty unclear to us right now.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation is still compiling figures for 2010, but it appears there were 389 traffic fatalities in the state last year. If that number stays below 400, it would be the first time in several decades that Iowa would record two consecutive years with fewer than 400 traffic fatalities. There were 371 traffic deaths in Iowa in 2009.