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Take Click It or Ticket and Stick It

Opinion Editorial
June 9, 2004

Author: Mike Krause

The Click It or Ticket season is over, at least until the next.  And while it would be nice if Colorado could say no to the seductive charms of federally sponsored, tax-dollar funded, nanny-state propaganda campaigns, this clearly is not the case.

Indeed, Colorado wholeheartedly has embraced Click It or Ticket, the do-gooder, finger wagging highway safety campaign– sponsored by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) — where authority figures scold and threaten us on television and radio, and cops roll out en masse for zero-tolerance seat belt enforcement.

The problem with Click It or Tickets seat belt hysteria is not just that it distracts law enforcement from its proper highway safety role, targeting drunk and reckless driving, nor the credibility government loses when it seeks to punish people for behavior that puts only themselves at risk.

As Ted Balaker from the Reason Public Policy Institute puts it, since drivers who don’t buckle up aren’t making anyone else less safe, laws that bear down on these people don’t make other motorists any safer either. http://www.reason.com/hod/tb052704.shtml

No, the real problem with the love affair between Colorado officials and Click It or Ticketlike most zero-tolerance propaganda dreamed up by politicians and safety crusadersis the muddled thinking, half-truths and condescending blather.

According to the Buckle Up America website (www.buckleupamerica.org) the propaganda page for Click It or Ticket, These efforts (zero tolerance seat belt enforcement and taxpayer funded advertising) will yet again result in dramatic increases in safety belt use, and will defend against one of the greatest threats to all of ustraffic crashes.

Of course wearing a seat belt doesnt defend against traffic crashes, only your chances of surviving it.  Yet as a simple matter of priorities, we should be willing to differentiate between someone who dies because he wasnt wearing a seat belt and someone who dies as a result of someone elses reckless driving.  Or as Balaker continues, Public policy should not concern itself with decreasing all highway deaths, but with decreasing the deaths of innocents.  A distinction the Click It or Ticket zealots cant seem to make.

Astonishingly enough, the Colorado State Patrol, many of whose troopers undoubtedly know better, appears to have bought into this.

The CSP will be supporting Click It or Ticket by putting every uniformed officer on the road. This commitment is part of the CSPs Colorado Target Zero effort to significantly reduce highway deaths, said Col. Mark Trostel, Chief of the CSP. We know we can reduce serious injuries and fatalities if motorists would use their seat belts and make sure their passengers are buckled up


Actually, the best way to reduce traffic crashes and the accompanying injuries and fatalities is to target drunk and dangerous drivers.

Every trooper giving a zero tolerance seat belt ticket and lecture on the side of the road is a trooper not catching drunks or deterring dangerous driving.  Besides which, the Patrols own tactics contradict Col. Trostels commitment to reducing highway deaths.

During several trips up I-70 into the mountains over the Memorial Day week, I saw numerous vehicles pulled over by the State Patrol, often several at a time.  Click It or Ticket in action, presumably.  Yet many of the State Patrol vehicles were un-marked or marked but without rooftop light bars (low profile). If highway safety is the priority here, why then, given the well known deterrent effect of marked police vehicles on aggressive driving and speeding, would the Patrol and other police agencies be using un-marked or low profile cars?  Or for that matter, even have them in the fleet?

Nicolas Eyle, in the book The New Prohibition (Accurate Press, 2004) comments on this as a national trend, But today, the goal isnt to slow traffic.  Its to catch and punish speeders (and collect fines).  A driver coming into town from the highway would slow down on his way through town if he saw a police car alongside the road.  Now he speeds though town, and is chased and ticketed (by an un-marked police car) a mile or two down the road.

The use of un-marked cars and the more than 4300 seat belt citations written in Colorado over the Memorial Day holiday (Denver Daily News,  June 1, 2004) puts a different perspective on the Buckle Up America claim that, Safety belt enforcement is not about writing tickets, but about saving lives. http://www.buckleupamerica.org/mayplanner/2004/PDFs/ClickItExplanation%20final%20edits.pdf

Colorado is also following the federal lead in claiming any increase in seat belt use must necessarily be the result of Click It or Ticket.

Buckle Up America claims, Click it or Ticket campaigns and similar efforts have increased seat belt use in cities, states and even in an entire region of the country.

They are referring to a reported 4% increase in national seat belt use– to 79%– from 2002 to 2003 (it is never really explained how the government measures a 4% increase) which they credit to a very successful May 2003 Click It or Ticket mobilization.

The Colorado Department of Transportation says basically the same thing, just worded differently. In 2002, Colorados seat belt use rate was 73.2 percent. After the Click It or Ticket campaign last year (2003), seat belt use increased to 77.7 percent.

Tom Norton from CDOT is more succinct, Last years Click It or Ticket campaign resulted in increased seat belt use in Colorado. http://www.dot.state.co.us/Communications/news/OP20040514-1.htm

If your ability to influence peoples decisions lies entirely through government coercion, then this makes perfect sense.  But before the Colorado legislature made seat belt use a nanny-state edict, a majority of Coloradoans already used seat belts.

The CDOT web site states, Joining the national movement of “Click It or Ticket,” Colorado’s law enforcement agencies will strictly enforce the seat-belt laws for two weeks (May 24-June 6). But if Click It or Ticket is about saving lives, why just two weeks?  Why not our own year round, zero-tolerance-belt-up-or-else program right here in Colorado?

The short answer must be that Click It or Ticket is just a couple of weeks out of the year of a seriously feel good public relations campaign, with accompanying police overtime, all on the federal tax-payer dime.

If Colorado wants to be serious — and honest — about highway safety, lets repeal the seat belt laws and let Colorado cops focus on dangerous and reckless drivers.  And leave the foolish ones to their own devices.

The Independence Institute
13952 Denver West Parkway, Suite 400
Golden, CO 80401

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is the President of the Independence Institute.

MIKE KRAUSE is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute.

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
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