The Four Point Plan
The plan to increase seat belt use in America has four elements that, when implemented together, have proven to be effective in increasing seat belt use. The first element is the most important: We must join together to build the public-private partnerships necessary to help America reach its potential to save lives and prevent injuries through the use of seat belts and child safety seats. In addition, each state must enact strong legislation and embrace active, high visibility law enforcement. Finally, all public and private partners must conduct well-coordinated, effective public education. These strategies work.
Point 1. To reach our goals, we will need to build public-private partnerships at the local, state, and federal levels. The problem is too big for any one group or coalition to tackle alone; no one of us is as effective as all of us are together. While it is the individual who must ultimately take responsibility to buckle up and safely secure all children riding in the vehicle, it is the responsibility of a great many to encourage, enact, enforce, and inform.
Driving is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. Through public-private partnerships, we can collectively address the seat belt non-use problem and establish a national attitude that wearing seat belts and using child safety seats is the expected behavior in America. Partnerships can coordinate and execute efforts that will weave the seat belt message into America's consciousness in the home, throughout hometowns, at school, in the workplace, on the road, at recreational sites, and in the media. Public and private sector organizations can join together to set the tone and serve as models who demonstrate that we are a nation that cares about children, families, good health, and well-being. By framing passenger protection as a health issue, public-private partnerships can reach millions of individuals with correct and helpful information, and can encourage seat belt part-time and non-users to make the right decision and buckle up.
There are, and have been, many strong partnerships over the past 10 years that have worked to increase seat belt and child safety seat use in America. Many public and private organizations have contributed funding and in-kind resources and have worked together to achieve our Nation's current 68 percent seat belt use rate. In communities across the country, businesses have joined with service groups, law enforcement agencies, citizen activists, county engineers, schools, and others to increase local use rates. States have formed statewide seat belt coalitions, distributed information, passed and enforced laws, and developed strategies for increasing usage. Large businesses have taken on the issue because it is cost effective and it makes sense. Now it is time to energize existing partners and bring on new ones to assist in meeting the national goals. New ideas, new resources, additional energy, and additional partners are needed.
It will, however, take more than marketing a healthier lifestyle to get hard core seat belt non-wearers, and those who fail to secure their children properly in motor vehicles, to take responsibility. Additional strategies are needed.
Point 2. The second component of the National Strategy is for states to enact strong legislation by adopting primary (standard) seat belt laws and closing the gaps in child passenger safety laws. Under primary enforcement laws, a citation can be written whenever a law enforcement officer observes an unbelted driver or passenger. In states with secondary laws, an officer can issue a citation only after the driver is stopped or cited for some other infraction. Child passenger safety laws should cover every child (up to age 16), in every seating position, in every passenger vehicle. Currently, although every state has a child passenger safety law, some laws include only very young children, some cover only the front seat, and some exempt pickup trucks and vans.
Point 3. The National Strategy's third component is to conduct active, high-visibility enforcement of seat belt laws to achieve higher seat belt use rates. Experience has shown that, after seat belt laws pass, use rates rise because of the public's perception that they must buckle up. However, if the laws are not actively enforced, use rates drop. Seat belt use laws need to be enforced in the same way that other traffic infractions are, like speeding or running a red light.
Another benefit of increased traffic enforcement, in addition to saving lives and dollars, is a measurable reduction in crime. Active, highly visible traffic enforcement provides a major opportunity to catch criminals. Because most criminals drive to and from crime scenes, it is not surprising that as many as one-third of criminal apprehensions occur as part of traffic stops. Nor is it surprising that high intensity law enforcement programs, such as those conducted in North Carolina and Tennessee, result in a large number of criminal apprehensions and recoveries of stolen property.
A variety of seat belt enforcement approaches are encouraged to fit a community's needs. Examples include ticketing, conducting checkpoints, safety checks, child safety seat clinics, and officers serving as role models by wearing their own seat belts. Active enforcement is a must. In addition, law enforcement must take every opportunity to educate the public about the importance of seat belts, child safety seats, and always seating children in the back seat of motor vehicles.
No child should be allowed to ride unrestrained in a vehicle. To ensure that children ride safely, law enforcement should take action on every child passenger safety law violation they see. Enforcing child passenger safety laws does not require extensive training on correct use. An officer needs only to observe a child who is at risk and do something about it. Sometimes officers believe that if a family cannot afford to purchase a child seat, they should not add to the family's burden by giving them a ticket with a fine. But other options are available. An officer can use a stop as an educational opportunity. The officer can refer the adult to a low-cost or "loaner" child safety seat program, or refer the adult to a local child passenger safety assistance program for technical advice if there is a misuse problem.
Point 4. The fourth component of the National Strategy is to expand effective public education on the benefits of seat belt and child safety seat use and the requirements of seat belt and child safety seat use laws. Public education may include a broad range of activities such as high visibility enforcement campaigns, promotional events, and community-based initiatives, but these activities must be well planned and well coordinated.
To educate the public about the dangers of not using or misusing seat belts and child safety seats, efforts can range from national campaigns, such as "Vince and Larry" (designed by the Ad Council), to inclusion of passenger safety information in state driver licensing booklets, instructional programs in schools and the workplace, and one-on-one opportunities delivered by health care professionals or child care workers. The crucial element is that the public receives a single, simple message, but receives it often and in many different ways.