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In the 1990s, national seat belt use plateaued at nearly 60 percent, and traffic injuries and deaths were escalating. “Buckle up for safety” messages were ineffective. At the same time, an alarming trend was emerging – children were being killed in crashes by air bags. Virtually all of the children were unbuckled or improperly buckled in the front seat. As a result, Congress was debating whether to reverse the air bag mandate. Research proved that mandatory seat belt laws and coordinated highly visible seat belt enforcement increased seat belt use in other countries. To implement this model in the U.S., the campaign’s coalition – a public/private partnership of automobile manufacturers, insurance companies, government agencies, and child health and safety organizations – turned to GMMB.
The coalition’s goals for the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign were to stop deaths by alerting drivers that children belong in the back seat and to address the biggest risk to children – riding unbuckled. To achieve these goals, GMMB took a three-pronged approach: educate drivers about air bag safety, enact strong seat belt laws, and organize national, high-visibility enforcement waves.
To educate drivers, GMMB conducted media outreach and developed corporate and organizational partnerships to deliver the campaign’s message. When GMMB began, more than 60 percent of parents reported positioning their children, 12 years old or younger, in the front seats of vehicles. As a result of the aggressive education effort, that number dropped to less than 10 percent. Between 1996 and 2006, fatalities among children 12 years old and younger in the front seat of passenger vehicles dropped from 554 to 209, a decline of 62 percent. Today, it is the norm for children to ride in the back seat. Additionally, GMMB helped build local advocacy coalitions to pass stricter seat belt laws. During the campaign, the number of states with primary seat belt laws jumped from 10 to 26.
To ensure these laws were enforced, GMMB grew “Click It or Ticket” (CIOT) from a one-state pilot program into a nationally coordinated biannual seat belt enforcement effort with more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies participating in all 50 states. GMMB recruited law enforcement and coordinated national and local media outreach to generate news coverage. CIOT’s documented results led Congress to appropriate money for national advertising to further publicize the effort. GMMB produced the advertising, which remains the model. During the campaign, national seat belt use increased from 61 percent in 1996 to 82 percent in 2005.Seat belt use continues to rise.
The U.S. Department of Transportation credits the campaign with reducing air bag deaths, increasing seat belt use, and reducing traffic fatalities and injuries.