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Back to Archives | Back to November 2003 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

November Safety Belt Mobilization: Show Some Restraint!

Patricia Cahill, Executive Director, IACP Foundation; Strategic Plan Administrator, IACP; and Advisor to the National Chiefs Challenge Program

Save the Date and Save Lives

Photograph by Patricia Cahill

If your agency has not already initiated safety belt enforcement programs for the holiday season, its time to get started. "High-visibility enforcement" and "sustained enforcement efforts" are key concepts for the November mobilization, which runs from Wednesday, November 26, through Sunday, November 30. If occupant protection is not currently a priority in your department, here are some facts to remember:

  • Roughly 43,000 Americans died in traffic crashes last year.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that more than 14,000 lives are saved by safety belts each year and another 300 lives are saved by appropriate child restraints.
  • Sixty percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in traffic crashes were unrestrained.
  • The safety belt use rate in the United States is 79 percent, up from 75 percent in 2002.

To maximize your agency's efforts in occupant protection, focus on combining public information and education campaigns, media exposure, and sustained enforcement programs. These partnerships can often result in successful and measurable results. For more information on statistics, best practices, mobilization planners, and Section 405 funding, visit NHTSA's Web site at, and select Traffic Safety/Occupant Issues.

Targeted Outreach-En EspaƱol

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 census data indicates that the Hispanic population in the United States has increased by nearly 60 percent. This fact, combined with the historically low safety belt use rate by Hispanics, means that your Hispanic community has a higher risk of being injured or killed in traffic crash.

To look at the issue another way, consider that belt use is not only a traffic safety issue but also a public health issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Hispanics between the ages of 1 and 34.

The IACP and NHTSA strongly oppose any form of enforcement that uses race or ethnicity as a criterion for stopping a motorist. It is important to note that increased enforcement efforts geared toward a particular group may raise concerns of bias-based policing; make sure your agency takes special care to design an appropriate outreach program before you begin your enforcement effort.

With this in mind, take into account a recent NHTSA occupant safety survey that found that 92 percent of Hispanics expressed support for laws requiring front seat passengers to wear safety belts; and 72 percent of Hispanics expressed support for primary safety belt laws. The results of this survey are a good example of a community collaboration waiting to be born. Contact your local Hispanic organizations and explore opportunities to partner in safety programs.

For more information on outreach to the Hispanic community, see NHTSA's Web site,, and select Multicultural Outreach at the bottom of the homepage.

The Badge and the Belt

Your officers and troopers spend hours on the road enforcing occupant protection laws, but are they buckled up? Safety belt use among law enforcement officers has often been a controversial issue. Many agencies mandate by policy that officers must wear their seat belts while on duty or operating a department-owned vehicle. Unfortunately, practitioners often feel that using a safety belt may impede their ability to quickly exit their cruiser in the event of a compelling in-progress call or the possibility of a foot pursuit.

Just as it is important for police executives to lead their agencies by example, it is critical that law enforcement officers provide an unimpeachable model of traffic safety for their communities by wearing their safety belts. Seat belts save lives, including police officers' lives.


From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 11, November 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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