Seat belt use in America in 2016 — the last year for which full numbers are available — reached an unprecedented high, 90.1 percent. Clearly, efforts aimed at increasing driver compliance with seatbelt laws and reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries as the result of vehicular crashes have paid off beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations.
Yet, beginning May 14 and running through June 3, state troopers and local police in all 50 states will be out in force looking for drivers — and passengers — who still aren’t buckling up so that they can pull those vehicles over and issue some very expensive tickets. They’ll just be taking part in the 16th annual Click It or Ticket safety belt awareness and compliance campaign.
Those officers are just bold enough to believe that they can push seat belt compliance even higher — and save more lives in the process.
A remarkable impact
Though their primary target will be passenger vehicles with unbuckled occupants, they’ll also be peering closely into truck cabs to see if commercial drivers are obeying the seatbelt law as well. And for commercial drivers, the stakes, if anything, are higher. Not only are their lives at risk if they’re not buckled into their seats, their continued ability to earn a living behind the wheel could be temporarily or even permanently forfeited if they get ticketed for failing to comply with the seat belt law.
The annual Click It or Ticket campaign ranks as one of the most effective public safety awareness campaigns in history, rivaling the campaign in the 1950s to get Americans vaccinated against polio and the original “Buckle Up for Safety” campaign of the 1960s. A compliance rate of more than 90 percent is remarkable no matter the subject of a public safety awareness campaign is.
Risk by the numbers
Still, nearly 10 percent of all drivers and/or their passengers fail to heed the warnings. The numbers illustrate just how foolhardy that is:
- The odds of dying from an asteroid impact are one in 74,814,414; the odds of dying in a skydiving accident are one in 133,000; the odds of dying while scuba diving are one in 6,098; but the odds of dying in a vehicular crash when you’re not wearing a seatbelt are one in two.
- Between 2010 and 2014, more than half of all passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes weren’t wearing seatbelts: 57 percent of the occupants killed in that span between the ages of 13 and 34 weren’t buckled up; and 58 percent of those occupants killed who were seated in the back seat of vehicles weren’t buckled.
- 26,000 truck drivers and/or their passengers were injured in crashes in 2012, while 700 more died in crashes. Experts estimated that buckling up could have saved up to 40 percent of the unbelted truck drivers/passengers.
- Approximately 65 percent of on-the-job deaths of truck drivers in 2012 were the result of crashes.
- More than one in three truck drivers will have a serious crash during their career, and one in six will have two or more such crashes. But research in 2012 showed that one in six truck drivers at the time typically did not use their seat belts. More than one in three truck drivers who died in crashes in 2012 weren’t buckled up.
Trucker drivers should lead by example
So, how can professional drivers help the cause behind the Click It or Ticket campaign?
For starters, they can make sure they always use their seat belts, even when riding as a passenger. Beyond that, they can encourage co-workers and other drivers they meet along the highways to do that same.
Trucking companies, too, can play an important role in increasing seat belt compliance by:
- Committing to driver safety programs at the highest level of leadership
- Establishing and enforce driver safety policies, including requiring everyone in the truck to buckle up
- Involving workers in decisions about how to put seat belt programs in place
- Promoting seat belt use in training and safety meetings
Such efforts actually work. In 2016, the use of seat belts in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 14,668 lives of vehicle occupants ages five and older. And the Click It or Ticket campaign justifiably can claim at least some of the credit for that.
So, over the next couple of weeks, as commercial drivers see the Click It or Ticket advisories on electronic highway signs or on bill boards, as they see officers on the side of the road writing tickets (perhaps for seatbelt violations), and as they interact with other drivers, they can make a special effort to communicate their approval of seatbelt law compliance. Whether it’s with a couple of short horn blasts as you pass an officer issuing a ticket or a simple word of encouragement to another driver over a cup of coffee, individual drivers can participate in the campaign. And they can make a difference.