By Joel Bolton, Project Manager, Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovation, Natchitoches, Louisiana
When you think about promoting traffic safety in your community, do you limit your thinking to specific times of the year? In the United States, it takes little thought for many law enforcement leaders to immediately consider emphasizing sober driving during the December holidays, child passenger safety in February, and safety belts at the outset of the summer travel season.
Those are the major emphasis periods each year. The United States observed Child Passenger Safety Week last month, with many departments taking advantage of the opportunity to educate parents and other caregivers on the importance of safely restraining our smallest passengers. Police agencies forged new partnerships with community advocates and educated officers about the different types of seats. Enforcement accompanied education to reach those drivers who failed to follow the requirements of the law.
If you thought about safety belts in the summer, you’re on target, too. This year the Click It or Ticket mobilization will take place May 21 through June 3. Experience has shown that these national periods of education and enforcement are effective tools to increase public awareness and safety on U.S. streets and highways. You can expect a two-week blitz of paid media starting a week before the campaign begins.
To take full advantage of this opportunity to increase belt use in your jurisdiction, plan now to conduct precampaign observational belt use surveys during the period between April 23 and May 6 and postcampaign surveys after June 3. Watch www.buckleupamerica.org for tips on how to seize earned media opportunities throughout the mobilization.
The part of the Click It or Ticket mobilization that only the police can do begins May 21 and continues through June 3, and it’s the enforcement of state safety belt use laws. Most people in your jurisdiction are wearing their safety belts because they understand the risk of being involved in a crash and recognize the lifesaving benefits of properly worn safety belt systems.
There remains, however, a segment of your population that buckles up only to avoid a roadside conversation and citation from one of your officers. To make that fear real, visible enforcement must take place. None of U.S. law enforcement’s national or local partners interested in increasing safety on our roadways can carry out this critical part of the campaign; only the police can.
If you thought about targeting impaired drivers through the busy party seasons of Christmas and New Year’s, you were correct again. December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, and this year there will be a national crackdown on impaired drivers December 15–31 (tagline: “Drunk driving. Over the limit. Under arrest.”).
For planning purposes, a second national crackdown on impaired driving in the United States is slated for August 17 through September 3.
While those may be the major emphasis periods U.S. law enforcement leaders typically plan for, there are opportunities in the coming months for police traffic services to be proactive and creative in keeping our officers and citizens safe.
Prom and graduation season will soon be here, offering opportunities to promote safe driving for teens. These new drivers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as other age groups based on miles driven. Concerned school administrators, student organizations, and parent groups can be outstanding partners in putting together assemblies and other programs.
We typically don’t think of traffic safety promotion in relation to National Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15), there is compelling evidence that we should. For the past nine years, traffic-related incidents have taken more officers from our ranks than shootings. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) reports that 73 of the more than 150 officers killed last year died in traffic-related incidents, 47 of them in automobile crashes. This alarming statistic indicates that police agencies should review their safety belt use policies and compliance rates. New or expanded training may be needed to increase awareness and make sure our officers are buckled up. Your state highway safety office can help with that training.
Fifteen of those 73 traffic-related deaths occurred while officers were outside their vehicle. This presents an opportunity to educate the public about their role in increasing officer safety on the road. The NLEOMF has developed and launched the Drive Safely campaign to increase awareness of the issue. For more information, check www.nleomf.org for ideas you can use during National Police Week, which will be observed May 13–19, 2007.
Another approaching traffic safety opportunity is the May 4 application deadline for the IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge. The competition offers a way to showcase your work in the areas of safety belt law enforcement, impaired driving prevention, and speed deterrence while competing against agencies of similar size and type. Successful programs in one jurisdiction will likely work in another, and the IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge helps to communicate those ideas to better prevent crashes and save lives across the country.
The IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge recognizes sound, effective traffic safety programs by encouraging agencies to adopt good policies and enforcement guidelines, conduct training for officers on traffic safety, participate in national mobilizations; inform and educate the public, enforce the laws that affect motorist safety, and evaluate the work being done to identify areas that can be improved.
While your agency’s participation is crucial to the success of the national mobilizations and crackdowns, there are opportunities throughout the year—with a little creative thinking—to educate the public, enforce the law, and keep our citizens and officers safe.