Back-Seat Driver

California targets seat belt scofflaws ... by tugging at their heart strings

A CHP officer investigates a fatal crash scene in rural Sacramento County in March 2017.
A CHP officer investigates a fatal crash scene in rural Sacramento County in March 2017.

Ninety-seven percent of Californians wears seat belts. Who are among the 3 percent holding out – and why?

State highway safety officials have thought that over and have come up with a new seat-belt safety campaign they hope will persuade some nonusers to change their ways.

The new seat belt slogan: “Do it for your family. Buckle up.”

Call it tough love. It’s the latest initiative in a decades-long effort in California and nationally that has succeeded in pushing seat-belt usage numbers above 90 percent in many states. Nationally, overall, the number 87 percent, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Chris Cochran of the state Office of Traffic Safety, said the new California campaign targets people who are not motivated by feelings of personal danger but who love their families and don’t want to cause those loved ones grief. That group may include teens. It also may include some of those people who don’t want the “nanny” state telling them what to do.

For them, the old “Buckle up for Safety” pitch didn’t have much punch. That pitch, first launched in 1964, included a memorable and peppy little jingle that went: “Put your mind at ease, tell your riders please, get your seat belts buckled. Everybody, buckle up!”)

In recent years, the state has been using a more pragmatic “Click It or Ticket” message, focusing on drivers’ pocketbook concerns.

The newest slogan “is more about what impact drivers may have on others, not just themselves,” Cochran said. “Think about what your family is going to think. Teens really do care about what their parents and siblings think.”

“We can do even better,” CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said. “Continued education and enforcement efforts can bring the seat belt compliance rate to 100 percent.”

The California Highway Patrol said its officers will be on the lookout this summer for drivers not wearing seat belts. CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader reports that over the Memorial Day weekend, 17 of the 24 people killed on California roads were not wearing their seatbelt.

“Even if you think you’re a good driver, it may protect you from the other guy who’s impaired, distracted, runs a red light, etc.,” Clader said in an email to The Bee. “Wearing a seat belt is the single most effective and simple thing you can do to protect yourself in a collision.”