By Joel Bolton, Project Manager, Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovation, Natchitoches, Louisiana
he start of summer will soon be upon us, and another busy travel season is beginning. That makes this a great time to remind the public that not wearing a safety belt will result in a citation.
If you and your agency routinely, aggressively, and strictly enforce your state’s safety belt law, you’ve probably found that most drivers understand that message and take the appropriate action: buckle up every trip. If, on the other hand, occupant protection has been an afterthought for your agency, public service announcements and news stories with a strong enforcement message will have little positive effect. The good news is that changing the public’s perception of seat belt enforcement is not that difficult.
The May Click It or Ticket campaign offers an outstanding opportunity to make that change. Agencies small and large have found that following the timeline of the national mobilization and using the materials provided by the campaign work! Safety belt use has increased and lives have been saved.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides well-researched and effective tools for increasing public understanding of the life-saving benefits of safety belts. They have press releases that require you only to insert the name of your agency before sending them to the local media. Other materials include op-ed pieces that explain the campaign and its intended effect. Talking points provide all the information you need for a speech to any local group.
Communicated through the news media and other means, reminders such as these are effective with a large segment of your population: those who listen to information about the risk posed to them by crashes, who understand that safety belts are the most effective device they can use to reduce their risk of injury in a crash, and who willingly buckle up for their own safety.
Another significant percentage of your citizens may buckle up only because it’s the law. These drivers tend not to understand the forces involved in a crash or their likelihood of being involved in a collision significant enough to cause them harm. Whether they agree or disagree with the law, compliance is important, and they will buckle up.
The remaining, smaller group is the one most receptive to and affected by the message of the Click It or Ticket mobilization. They somehow see themselves as invincible and immune to crashes. Since they don’t perceive themselves as being at risk for injury from a crash, or they think they are such talented drivers that they won’t be involved in a crash, they see no reason to wear a safety belt.
Research has proven that this group will consistently respond to one thing: the risk of a citation. That risk—in fact, the entire Click It or Ticket message—depends on you and your fellow officers, deputies, and troopers. If you’re not citing those who are not wearing seat belts, then there is no risk of being written up for the unbuckled. It follows then that in communities where the “buzz” is that local law enforcement routinely takes action when they encounter unbuckled occupants, the message of the campaign will be believed, and that hard-to-reach group will buckle up.
Fortunately, and with credit to our nation’s law enforcement community, the Click It or Ticket campaigns have been incredibly successful. Thousands of agencies have participated in the mobilization. New partnerships have been forged. The public has heard and understood the message, and safety belt use rates have increased.
Making the Click It or Ticket campaign work for your agency is as simple as using the campaign public information materials and enforcing the law. You can increase your effectiveness, however, with a little research to help tailor your media work and enforcement activities to the patterns of belt use in your community.
The first step is to know your safety belt use rate. Surveys are simple to conduct and can also reveal a significant amount of data, depending on how much information you want. For instance, you can easily see where in your jurisdiction belt use rates are highest and lowest. This information can help determine where enforcement resources should be deployed to have the greatest effect on use rates.
Survey data can also be broken down in other useful ways, such as by type of vehicle or time of day. For example, if your jurisdiction is typical, you will find that pickup truck drivers will have a lower use rate. These data may be useful in targeting public information and education efforts. You will likely also find that belt use in your community is lower at night. Researchers have used night vision goggles and infrared spotlights to study that difference. If such equipment works for them, would it work for enforcement of safety belt use laws?
Don’t forget to take a look at your crash data for where and when crashes are occurring. You’ll find useful information in that analysis to help guide your enforcement and information work as well.
Survey belt use in your community now—then participate actively in the May Click It or Ticket mobilization. Afterward, conduct another safety belt use survey. You’ll be surprised at the difference your agency can make!■