Impact of ‘Click-it’ or Ticket Safety Campaign on Illinois Seatbelt Usage

Click Your SeatBelt for SafetyBuckling up your safety belt is the law in Illinois that can result in substantial fines if you do not. A seatbelt provides you the best opportunity to avoid a severe injury or death in an automobile accident. Whether you drive a family sedan, sports car, or an 18-wheeler truck, local law enforcement officers will pull you over and ticket you if you are not wearing a seatbelt. This is because of the high success rate of saving thousands of American lives who followed the guidance to “Buckle Up America” and “Click it or Ticket” safety campaigns.

The nationwide “Click It or Ticket” Safety Campaign was launched back in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Transportation under its National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA). While the campaign was originally targeted on all motorists across America, it especially focused on younger male drivers between 18 and 34 years of age because research revealed this demographic group rarely wears their seatbelt.

Through a massive effort, the state of Illinois in conjunction with the US Department of Transportation increased public awareness on how law enforcement officers will cite traffic law violators including those who do not wear a seatbelt. This educational campaign provides public information to inform drivers of the benefits of always wearing a seatbelt. This campaign lasts up to six weeks and focuses on reducing injuries and saving lives by promoting the importance of buckling up. The annual event starts near the end of April and lasts until the end of June.

The diverse safety campaign is routinely promoted through national media using television, radio, social media and the Internet to deliver their message that law enforcement officers are cracking down on local seat belt law violators. The media advertisements are aired in both English and Spanish languages in many areas of the country including in Illinois to increase public awareness of the heightened effort of police and other law enforcement officers who ticket seat belt law violators.

Currently, Illinois and 32 other states along with the District of Columbia have enacted standard seatbelt laws. In fact, Illinois has a primary seat belt law that is designed to promote seatbelt usage through strict enforcement.

Why Promote a Safety Campaign?

Chapter experience, the Federal and Illinois Departments of Transportation concluded that increasing the usage rates of safety belts – at a rate higher than 80 percent – is not possible without promoting the safety campaign that focuses on law enforcement. The agency determined that the threat of death and severe injury is not sufficient enough to change the minds of individuals, especially young drivers who are often not convinced of their mortality that they need to buckle up.

Since the safety campaign was first initiated 15 years ago, experience has shown that high-risk motorists typically only wear their seatbelt when there is a real possibility that they will be fined or ticketed by law enforcement for violating the law.

Enforcing the law that was initially enacted in July 2003 by the Illinois legislature makes it legal for law enforcement officers to stop and ticket any driver who is not wearing a safety belt. Even so, many drivers simply don’t care unless it hurts them financially.

For the agency, the cost of promoting the safety campaign is expensive. This is because the Department of Transportation is required to promote the program using earned and paid media. During the publicity campaign, media outlets air safety belt messages that focus on enforcing the law by stopping motors and issuing tickets. Television viewers and radio listeners are bombarded with advertisements that are aired extensively in the last two weeks of June to keep a lookout for police wanting to pull them over for breaking the law.

It is during this time that law officers conduct a “zero-tolerance” enforcement to ensure the efforts by the DOT safety campaign return maximum results. In addition, the agency conducts various enforcement activities designed to encourage drivers and passengers to buckle up. Other activities involve increasing public awareness of ticketing violators by educating the public on the negative effect of serious accidents that result in injuries and fatalities. This campaign is conducted during daytime and nighttime hours to allow the Department of Transportation to achieve certain objectives that include:

  • Increasing safety belt use all throughout Illinois, especially in rural areas.
  • Determining how many individuals in Illinois were wearing their safety belts before, during and after the campaign. The information is collected during observational surveys, especially in rural communities.
  • Gathering opinions of Illinois residents on safety belt use, enforcement, laws, and programs.
  • Evaluating the safety campaign on its effectiveness of getting the public to wear their safety belt.

A Real Problem in Rural Areas

Since the safety program was first launched more than a decade ago, law officers have struggled to enforce the use of safety belts on high-risk drivers and passengers in rural communities. Public awareness in the rural population is critical because this demographic is significantly overrepresented and the number of automobile accidents with fatalities compared to all other demographics throughout Illinois.

Focusing on success, the Department of Transportation Traffic Safety Campaign effectively addresses the challenges of improving driver behavior head-on by developing a comprehensive program that focused on three criteria that include “a focused outreach and media campaign; high visibility enforcement; and a quantifiable evaluation component.”

However, reaching this market through available television, newspaper, radio and other media had has proven to be difficult. This is because law violating population is spread out over 102 Illinois counties. The agency in charge of the “Click It or Ticket” safety campaign selected five Illinois rural media markets to air and print the safety message. These markets included Champagne, Davenport, Peoria, Rockford, and Metro East St. Louis.

Seatbelt Laws

While seatbelt laws have been on the books for many years, most were considered secondary violations, meaning the law officer could not pull the driver over specifically because they were not wearing their seatbelt. Over time, many communities, counties, and states updated their laws, meaning a failure to wear a seatbelt was now considered a primary violation.

Updating the law was important to the safety of travelers. This because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics reveal that in 2015, 48 percent of the more than 22,400 people who were killed in automobile accidents nationwide were unbuckled at the time of the accident. This number rose even higher in nighttime vehicle accidents where 57 percent of all passenger vehicle fatalities were the result of not wearing a seatbelt. This is in comparison to the 40 percent who lost their lives in automobile accidents during daylight hours.

Seatbelt Usage

The State of Illinois conducted a survey in April 2016 with results that revealed that approximately 93 percent of all telephonic respondents claimed that they always wear their seatbelt when traveling. This number rose slightly in a follow-up survey that was conducted in June 2016, near the end of that year’s safety campaign.

The number of Chicago area respondents to the survey claimed that say they wear their seat belt decreased slightly from a high of 93.5 percent in April 2016 down to 92.6 percent in June. The respondents in the downstate region rose significantly from 92.7 percent in April to a high of 96.1 percent in June.

The state also categorized the number of front seat passengers who were wearing their seat belt “all of the time.” In the June 2016 follow-up survey, passengers who claimed they wore their seat belt every time they traveled drop to 86.1 percent. The number of back seat passengers wearing a seat belt all the time was a dismal 60.0 percent in the April 2016 survey that dropped even further near the end of the safety campaign down to 57.6 percent.

Ejecting from the Vehicle

Not wearing a seat belt during an accident has the potential of causing the occupant to be ejected from the vehicle. In fact, vehicle ejections tend to create the most serious injuries in automobile accidents. In 2015, 80 percent of all passenger vehicle fatal accidents resulted in a victim being ejected from the vehicle.

This unfortunate high percentage statistic of automobile accident deaths by vehicle ejection is in direct opposition to the 1 percent of drivers and passengers who were wearing a seatbelt restraint and were still ejected from the vehicle. The fact remains that seat belts are highly effective at preventing most occupants from being thrown from the vehicle during an accident.

Are Seat Belts Really Safe?

Before you can determine whether or not a seat belt is the best way remained safe in the vehicle is to understand their design. While you might not feel safer, is crucial understand what is going on when you are seated in a moving vehicle.

In a moving vehicle, the motion of your body is traveling at the identical speed as the car or truck. This means that if the vehicle is moving 45 mph, your body is also moving at that speed. If the vehicle comes to a sudden stop by slamming on the brakes or hitting an object, your body is thrown forward at the vehicle’s speed until you make contact with the dashboard or windshield. The faster the vehicle is moving, the more intense the force will be that propels your body in a forward motion until it hits a solid object like the windshield, dashboard or steering wheel.

Imagine for a moment that the vehicles traveling at 70 miles an hour before crashing into another vehicle, building or tree. Your vehicle stopped immediately. Unfortunately, you and all the other occupants will be thrust forward at 70 mph. At that speed, without a seat belt, you will likely be thrust forward with enough force to crash through the windshield. All backseat passengers will likely be thrown into the front seats or against the backside of the front seats. Everyone moving inside the vehicle will likely experience severe injuries including bone fractures, deep lacerations, and bleeding. That fast speeds, one or more occupants will likely be killed.

Now, imagine you and everyone else in the vehicle are wearing their seat belt that holds them firmly restrained in their position. Now, if the vehicle crashes into a solid object and comes to an abrupt stop, everyone inside the vehicle will still be thrust forward but stopped before their body can hit a seat, dashboard, windshield, window or steering wheel. Often, these victims of car accident walk away with minor injuries, especially when compared to the injuries suffered by any occupant who did not buckle up.

How Seatbelts Work

Seat belts prevent drivers and passengers from serious injuries or death in five unique ways that include:

  • Securing the Occupant Inside the Vehicle – Any individual that is ejected from the vehicle during an accident is four times more likely to die compared to the rest of the occupants who remained inside the vehicle.
  • Restraining the Body’s Strongest Parts – The lap belt and the shoulder belt are designed to restrain the body at its strongest parts. Adults and older children are restrained by the seat belt at the shoulders and hips that keep them fully restrained to prevent hitting forward objects like the dashboard, steering wheel, windows, and windshield.
  • Spreading the Force of the Collision – The belt around the shoulder and the lap spreads the intense force caused by the accident over a wide area across the body’s torso. Spreading the force produces less stress than what would be concentrated in a single area, which can prevent severe injuries. In addition, the shoulder strap restrains the upper body, neck, and head from hitting the steering wheel and dashboard as a vehicle comes to a sudden stop or when hit by other objects or vehicles.
  • Slowing the Body Down – The severest injuries are usually caused by a sudden stop in speed. The quicker it takes the body to slow down from moving in a forward motion the more chances of suffering an injury or being killed. Alternatively, a seat belt restrains the body and slows down the time it takes to stop moving forward.
  • Protecting the Spinal Cord and Brain – The design of the seat belt protects the head and spinal cord from serious injuries or extensive damage including a broken back or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

To be effective, the safety belt must be buckled up correctly. This requires an adjustment every time you snap yourself in. Proper equipment requires the strap to fit snugly across the lap over the upper thigh and hips. If the seat belt crosses the stomach during an accident, a sudden stop or a quick thrust forward could cause significant injuries or death.

The shoulder portion of the seat belt must be positioned securely across the shoulders and chest over the breastbone. Avoid placing the shoulder strap close to the face or over the neck. Never position the shoulder strap behind the back or under the arms. Either position could lead to severe injuries during an accident.

Different Rules for Young Children

Your young child is not a little teenager or a small adult. In fact, they require special protection when seated and restrained in a moving vehicle. The structure of their skeleton is much different than an adult or older child due to their weight and height. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following guidance for ensuring your child is protected when traveling.

  • Child Safety Seat (Rear Facing) – Any child one year or younger weighing less than 20 pounds needs to be secured in a rear facing child safety seat. It must be one that has the seal of approval from the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) that is secured in the vehicle’s back seat.
  • Child Safety Seat (Forward Facing) – Any child one year or younger weighing more than 20 pounds needs to be secured in a forward-facing child safety seat in the back seat of the vehicle. The child can use the seat until they outgrow the seat’s height and weight limit that usually occurs around four years of age and/or 40 pounds in weight.
  • Booster Seat – Any child four years or older weighing more than 40 pounds should be secured in a booster seat that properly fits across the chest and upper thighs. The seat can be used by the child until 8 to 12 years of age or when they reached 4.9” in height.

Fitting School Buses with Seatbelts

Unfortunately, the federal government has yet to issue a mandate requiring children wear a seat belt while traveling on school buses. To date, only California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas require that every school bus in their State be equipped with a seat belt for children and other passengers.

The lack of action taken to ensure the children are safe on their way to and from school and to extracurricular activities goes against many recommendations made by highly reputable agencies, counsels, and professional groups. Installing passenger seatbelts on school buses has long been a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Another recommendation was made by the National Safety Council, whose president and CEO Deborah Hersman stated “that’s the best protection that we can give our kids. It’s what they’re used to in cars. We know that there are very few fatalities involving children on school buses every year – they are a safe form of transportation – but anything that we can do to make them safer is really our responsibility.”

Cost Might Be an Issue

Many believe that the reason federal and many state governments have yet to take any action on installing seat belts on school buses is the cost. A 2014 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Report supports the idea that maybe the funds are not necessary. The report revealed that nearly 500 teenagers and children lose their lives every year in car accidents that occur “during school travel hours, however, only about four are killed while riding school buses during the same hours.”

Even so, the cost of installing seat belts in school buses is relatively low – between $7000 and $10,000 each. In support of the initiative of equipping buses with seat belts, NHTSA argues that installing three-point seat belts on every school bus in the United States could reduce the fatality rate on school buses from four victims down to two.

A False Sense of Security?

Many motorists believe that wearing a seatbelt gives them a false sense of security in believing that they are safer than they really are when riding in vehicles. This theory was held up by a risk expert professor at the University College of London who believes that seat belt usage comforts the driver into believing they remain safe when driving. The professor believes that this creates an illusion that the motorist could drive recklessly without care, which would heighten their risk of causing an accident.

Seatbelt Research Holds up

Extensive research studies over the last few decades have revealed the drivers and passengers who wear seat belts have a reduced risk of suffering severe injuries from a vehicle accident. A research report published in 2008 by the NHTSA revealed the impact on drivers and front seat passengers wearing a seat belt over their lap and shoulder. This report indicated that individuals wearing seat belts had a significantly lower moderate to severe injury rate (50 percent) and fatality rate (45 percent) compared to individuals who were not wearing a seat belt.

In addition to saving victims of automobile accidents from severe injuries, wearing a seat belt is known to save lives. This is because the design restrains the occupant against their seat and prevents their body from being ejected from the vehicle as the accident is occurring. Vehicle accident ejection statistics in 2008 by the NHTSA revealed that nearly 8 out of every 10 (77 percent) of all automobile accident fatalities were the result of an occupant being ejected from the car or truck.

This research proves that being ejected from the vehicle increases the chance of dying exponentially and that by preventing the ejection by using a seat belt, the occupant’s chances of being killed a significantly reduced. The federal agency determined that had all those fatality victims been wearing their seatbelt at the time of the accident they would likely still be alive today.

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