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Back to Archives | Back to December 2003 Contents 

From the Director

Increasing Safety Belt Use: A National Priority

By Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, D.C.

Jeffrey W. Runge, MD.
Increasing safety belt use in America has been one of my top priorities since becoming the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When I met with you and your colleagues in Alexandria, Virginia, in March, I asked for your help in this initiative, and you delivered. In May of this year, we executed together the most extensive campaign in the history of the agency to raise safety belt use nationwide. Thank you for stepping up to the plate to enforce this important traffic law that keeps Americans safe while driving.

I am pleased to announce that our 2003 National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) has shown a nationwide safety belt use of 79 percent as a result of the campaign. This is a historic high level of belt use, representing a 4 percent increase over 2002. This difference will result in saving at least 1,000 lives each year we sustain the increase and preventing more than 16,000 serious injuries. Also, this will result in saving the U.S. economy an estimated $3.2 billion, mostly in medical costs and lost productivity.

The 2003 Click It or Ticket campaign was truly a nationwide effort—all 50 states participated—involving more than 10,000 law enforcement agencies. We received strong support for Click It or Ticket from the Congress, which provided $10 million to fund a national paid media campaign. We understand that the work gets done on the ground, by our law enforcement partners at the state, county, and local level. Our paid advertising only works because you are doing the work. We hope that the "air support" has made your job easier and more visible.

As Secretary Mineta has reminded us, "Our work is not over." We still have one-fifth of the U.S. population that does not wear their safety belts. These are the riskiest of drivers and therefore in most need of wearing a safety belt. We will enjoy this year's success, but we cannot rest on it. We need the continued support of law enforcement agencies for primary safety belt laws in every state, and strict enforcement of the laws that do exist in every state and territory. These laws require enforcement, not just during the Click It or Ticket campaigns, but 365 days a year. More than 6.3 million crashes occur every year, all year long, and that requires daily vigilance in traffic law enforcement.

I cannot thank you enough for what you have helped us accomplish in 2003, and I hope you share our pride in this important accomplishment. We look forward to our continued work together as we close in on a nationwide use rate of 80 percent or more.


From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 12, December 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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