Skip to main content
You can also sort pages by filters.
Table of Contents
Download the Full Book

Effectiveness: 4 Star Cost: $$$
Use: Low
Time: Medium

Short-term, high-visibility seat belt law enforcement programs (the Seat Belts and Child Restraints chapter, Section 2.1) require substantial funding and law enforcement resources. In addition, some States have experienced smaller gains in seat belt use associated with enforcement campaigns after conducting them for several years (Nichols & Ledingham, 2008). These programs also have been conducted almost exclusively during daytime, and the available data suggest that belt use is lower at night (Chaudhary et al., 2005; Hedlund et al., 2004; Nichols & Ledingham, 2008).

In 2018 some 56% of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes at night were unrestrained (NCSA, 2020b). In contrast, 39% of fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants in daytime crashes were unrestrained. Furthermore, nighttime seat belt use among passenger vehicle occupants killed was on average 17 percentage points lower than daytime belt use, according to FARS data for the 10-year period from 2009 to 2018.

Although some data suggest that more emphasis on seat belt enforcement during the late-night hours and in conjunction with alcohol laws can provide additional gains in seat belt use and injury reduction (Nichols & Ledingham, 2008), more recent evaluations have shown mixed results (Nichols, Chaffe, & Solomon, 2016; Thomas et al., 2017). In theory, retaining the short-term, high- intensity enforcement model, but including other traffic safety issues such as DWI and excessive speed, could be effective since the same drivers tend to drink, speed, and not buckle up (Nichols, Chaffe, & Solomon, 2016). In particular, combined DWI and belt law checkpoints, saturation patrols, or enforcement zone operations could be conducted at night, when belt use is lower, DWI higher, and crash risk greater than during the day. Enforcement  should be conducted in locations with adequate lighting or by using light enhancing technologies. The first demonstration of this strategy took place in 2004 in Reading, Pennsylvania (Chaudhary et al., 2005). See the Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Section 2.5 “Integrated Enforcement” for further discussion on combined seat belt and alcohol enforcement.

Use: There is little information available on how frequently integrated nighttime, HVE strategies are used. One demonstration of a nighttime program in Pennsylvania was conducted in 2004 (Chaudhary et al., 2005), another demonstration program involving three North Carolina communities was conducted in 2007 (Solomon et al., 2009), Washington State conducted a 2-year statewide high-visibility nighttime seat belt enforcement program from May 2007 to May 2009 (Thomas et al., 2010), and Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Maryland conducted enforcement waves from 2011 to 2013 (Nichols, Chaffe, & Solomon, 2016; Retting et al., 2018).

Effectiveness: A 2004 nighttime high-visibility belt enforcement program in Reading, Pennsylvania, increased nighttime front-seat-occupant belt use by 6 percentage points, from 50% to 56%. Daytime belt use increased by 3 percentage points, from 56% to 59% (Chaudhary et al., 2005).

A 2007 evaluation of three HVE demonstration programs designed to improve nighttime seat belt use in three communities – two in North Carolina with a primary seat belt law and one in West Virginia with a secondary law – concluded that nighttime high- visibility seat belt law enforcement programs can be effective for increasing nighttime belt use (Solomon, Chaffe, & Preusser, 2009). Furthermore, roadside breath tests used to collect BAC measures in one North Carolina community reported that the program also decreased drinking and driving.

A detailed evaluation of the Washington nighttime seat belt enforcement program found that it was effective across outcome measures (Thomas et al., 2017). The program used a combination of HVE and both paid and earned media. Public surveys reported that 70% of motorists reported hearing or seeing campaign messages and noticed increased enforcement. Over the course of the program, observed daytime and nighttime seat belt use levels trended upwards from initially high levels, with a larger increase occurring for nighttime use (from around 95% to 97% at night). Additional time-series analyses of crash data found that the program was associated with 3.4 fewer nighttime fatalities per month, even after accounting for the effects associated with the State adopting primary seat belt enforcement prior to the program. An evaluation of the first year of this Washington program also looked at the characteristics of observed drivers (through self-report, driving, and criminal records) finding notable differences between unrestrained and restrained drivers by time of day (Thomas et al., 2010). For example, unrestrained nighttime drivers were 2.7 times more likely than restrained daytime drivers to have had a felony arrest and 3.0 times more likely to have had an alcohol citation. As part of the outcome evaluation, debriefings with local LEAs reported that enforcement personnel felt that the publicity campaign enhanced their efforts and that they would recommend the program to other agencies.

An evaluation study examined the effectiveness of the More Cops More Stops (MCMS) HVE program implemented in Oklahoma and Tennessee (Nichols, Chaffe, & Solomon, 2016). The program addressed traffic safety issues with one integrated message. The MCMS program covered impaired driving, seat belt, and speeding enforcement under a single message. During four of the six campaign waves, MCMS activity was accompanied by Click It or Ticket (CIOT) or Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over (DSOGPO) statewide campaigns. The effectiveness of the MCMS program was limited. While there were some positive outcomes in terms of increased recognition of the MCMS slogan and some increases in awareness of general traffic enforcement, overall driver perceptions of the risk of a traffic stop did not increase. The integrated program (i.e., MCMS plus statewide campaigns) likely had an impact on seat belt usage, although observational surveys provided little evidence that the MCMS phases yield gains above and beyond that associated with the statewide campaigns. However, one of the five market areas (Memphis) experienced a significant increase in daytime and nighttime seat belt usage. While the evaluation did find some positive outcomes associated with the overall program (MCMS plus statewide), the evaluation found no evidence of MCMS being an effective tool for enhancing the effect of the CIOT and DSOGPO statewide campaigns. An additional consideration was that the MCMS integrated program was taxing on law enforcement, and challenging to maintain for the full program duration.

Costs: The costs of combined HVE programs are similar to and probably somewhat greater than the costs of programs directed exclusively at belt law violators (the Seat Belts and Child Restraints chapter, Section 2.1). Publicity must be directed at different offenses in turn, and LEOs must have the training and equipment to address different offenses. Nighttime programs may entail somewhat higher costs if new night-vision technology is used.

Time to implement: Integrated and nighttime HVE programs require 4 to 6 months to plan and implement.