Seat belt use rates increase an average of 3.5 percentage points when a high visibility enforcement (HVE) campaign is utilized, according to a new study recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Specifically, the synthesis of existing research examined data across 80 studies on the relationship between HVE efforts and safety outcomes. The focus of the research was on dangerous driving behaviors that are some of the greatest behavioral contributors to crash fatalities: not buckling up, speeding, and drunk, distracted, and aggressive driving.
The findings indicate that public outreach and equitable enforcement motivates positive driver behavior change. In short, HVE campaigns help to reduce risky driving behaviors, thereby enhancing safety for all road users.
For example, the federal “Click It or Ticket” seat belt enforcement program has proven incredibly successful. It works because the program is highly visible with the public through advertising and media exposure — and law enforcement diligently support it. The program is credited to have increased U.S. seat belt compliance rates from only 58% in 1994 to over 90% in 2020.
Noteworthy, after years of steady progress, that rate fell slightly in 2020 during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic when many police departments reduced traffic enforcement. The data indicates that HVE campaigns can’t just be “visible;” rather, they must also be “enforced.”
In addition to seat belt use, the NHTSA study found that enforcement is effective at reducing other dangerous behaviors that are leading contributors to roadway fatalities. HVE campaigns focused on distracted driving, alcohol-impaired driving, and speeding led to a reduction in hand-held phone use, lower rates of drunk driving crashes and citations, and decreased speeds in work zones, respectively.