PROVO — Teen drivers in south Utah County are slacking off on seat belt safety, a Utah County Health Department study revealed Thursday.

At the end of last school year, the health department posted survey takers outside the parking lots at Payson, Springville and Spanish Fork high schools to observe students' buckle habits over a three-day period, said Utah County Health Department spokesman Lance Madigan. They came back at the beginning of the school year in August to repeat the study, he said, and they weren't pleased to learn teens aren't clicking it as often as they should.

The survey found only 60 percent of Spanish Fork students buckle up, down 13 percentage points from last spring. In Springville, survey-takers observed 67 percent of students click it, down 9 percentage points from last school year. About 69 percent of Payson students buckle up, the same as last spring.

"Just once is all it takes," Madigan said about the chance of being in an accident. "It's statistical fact."

Spanish Fork resident Lori Cable was driving home when she heard the results of the local study. Her daughter is a 15-year-old student at Spanish Fork High School with a learner's permit, and Cable was displeased to hear 40 percent of her daughter's classmates don't buckle up.

"It won't be my daughter," she said. "She will be thoroughly talked to, and she will know to always wear her seat belt."

Cable said her father didn't wear his seat belt and was severely injured in a car accident 18 years ago in California. Every since then her family has buckled up.

Madigan couldn't find national statistics on teen seat belt rates to compare with the south Utah County study, but he said Utahns generally rate above the average for strapping in. In 2006, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported 88.6 percent of Utahns use their seat belts, compared with 81 percent nationwide. But Utahns can always do better, he said.

The simple little trick of pulling the strap over and clicking in can increase a person's chance of surviving an accident by 50 percent, Madigan said.

"Those are better odds than if you're going to Vegas," he said. "And I think our lives are that important."

The study also found most students don't buckle up because they think, "I'm not going that far." Springville Police Lt. Dave Caron said he's heard that excuse from teens and adults alike. He's developed some other ideas to explain why teens don't buckle up as often as they should.

"Children think they are invincible," he said. "Wearing seat belts is something they don't want to worry about."

But excuses and rationales don't hold much weight when a traffic accident happens, Caron said.

"If (people) saw the accidents I've gone out to, they'd probably put on their seat belts every time," he said.

When Caron heard the results of the study, he said he wished the numbers were 100 percent, but he's glad to hear Springville beat its next-door rival.

"Any time we can beat Spanish Fork we're happy," he joked. "This wasn't our year for football."