A safety belt campaign that has prompted record numbers of North Carolinians to buckle up since 1993 expanded this year to seven more southeastern states.
Support from auto insurers helped launch "Click It or Ticket" more than eight years ago (see "Carolina belt use peaks at 84 percent; future gains sought," March 7, 1998). It was the first statewide program to feature highly publicized enforcement of a belt use law, resulting in a jump in the buckle-up rate from 65 to 80 percent in the program's first year. North Carolina's safety belt use rate rose as high as 84 percent in subsequent years.
"Click It or Ticket" has continued in North Carolina, one of only a handful of U.S. states to maintain a belt use rate of 80 percent or more, and now other states are following the "Click It or Ticket" model. South Carolina adopted the program in November 2000, and in May 2001 six more states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee — joined North and South Carolina for a coordinated campaign.
This multistate effort, the first of its kind, increased belt use 9 percentage points, from 65 to 74 percent, across the region in just under a month. Funding for the event came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta commends the program, saying the participating states are responsible for more than 4.5 million new belt users.
The spreading success is exactly what "Click It or Ticket" was intended to achieve, says Institute chief scientist Allan Williams. "The idea behind the program always was to create a model that other states could use," Williams says. "The approach worked in North Carolina, which is why it's still being used. Now other states are seeing it can work for them."
Publicity adds weight to enforcement
"Click It or Ticket" works because it combines stepped-up enforcement such as checkpoints and special safety belt patrols with publicity that has an enforcement message. "Many people will buckle up simply because it's the law. For those who don't, the threat of a ticket can provide the motivation," Williams explains. "That's why it's so important to publicize the enforcement and make it visible to motorists."
More than 26,000 checkpoints or patrol events were conducted throughout the Southeast during the recent buckle-up effort. To alert drivers to the intensified enforcement, public service announcements and about $3.5 million in paid advertisements were aired both before and during the campaign.
States with lowest rates improve most
Among the eight participating states, belt use increased most in Mississippi and Tennessee where use rates before the start of the program were lowest. But gains were recorded in all eight states, according to observational surveys conducted before and at the height of the campaign.
The highest belt use rates, both before and after the campaign, were in Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina, the three states with standard (or primary) safety belt laws. The other five states have secondary laws, under which drivers can be ticketed for not using a belt only if they've been pulled over for another violation.
Percent belt use before and at height of buckle-up campaigns in eight states