BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The use of seat belts in Louisiana has reached a record high of 79.3 percent this year. It's a factor officials say is contributing to the state's declining highway death rate. The 79.3 percent rate is an increase from last year's 77.7 percent, which itself matched a previous all-time high.

Preliminary crash statistics for 2011 indicate that Louisiana's highway death toll declined for the fourth consecutive year. Prior to the beginning of the decline in 2008, the number of traffic fatalities had increased most years since record keeping began.

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said the numerous programs sponsored by various agencies are playing a role in increased seat belt use and the decreased number of lives lost in crashes.