I have been disturbed by the message of some recent wear-your-seatbelt advertisements, especially the "Click it or Ticket" variety. Sure rhyming "Click it" with "Ticket" is catchy, but if you think about the intended message, it is horrifying. Here are some recent commercials aired in Chicago that demonstrate this point:
A radio advertisement (paraphrased): "Dude, my friend and I were driving to a concert, but then something horrible happened. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt and the police pulled us over and gave him a ticket. Because he has to pay for the seatbelt ticket, he can't afford to go to the concert, and now I'm at the concert alone."
A television advertisement: "Did you know that not wearing your seatbelt is against the law?" Cue images of officers in strange places writing tickets to people who are not wearing their seatbelt (e.g., at the drive-thru at a burger joint or inside a car wash).
The "Click it or Ticket" advertisements convey that the police are everywhere and watching my every move. If I don't strap in, buckle up or click it, I risk being fined. The advertisements are funny and they call attention to people not wearing seatbelts, but do we really expect this tactic to work?
The Tribune thinks that the campaign will be a success, but I am not so sure. The advertisements are only supposed to convince people who are unswayed by the life-saving argument to buckle up. Let's say people are faced two alternatives: "Click it or Ticket" or "Click it or Die" Given that someone already said "Click it or Die? No thanks, I think I'm going to risk it," do we really think that making him laugh about being ticketed is going to sway him?
I doubt it, and unfortunately, we don't have a good comparison here in Chicago. Since my wife and I moved here, I have yet to hear a seatbelt advertisement that says, "We were driving. I was wearing a seatbelt. Jeremy was not. We got in an accident. He was ejected from the car and died. I have to live on knowing that his seatbelt could have saved his life. *sob*"
Wouldn't that be more effective? I used to hear those ads all the time in Montana. I am not sure those ads work either, but at least those ads are upfront about the problem. "Click it or ticket" is like saying "eat your vegetables or I'll slap you." On a fundamental level, don't we want to try "eat your vegetables, they're good for you" first?
What are the effects, really? On one hand, I just don't see why throwing tickets around is going to be so effective. On the other hand, I want to set effectiveness aside and ask, "What if it is effective? What do we accomplish?" If seatbelt policing works to get more people to strap in, there are three effects:
1. Lost money. The advertising campaign costs money. This money could be used for any other law enforcement purpose. Instead, it is wasted on a TV spot that tells me that Big Brother is watching when I hop in the car. I don't know what is more horrifying: that the government wants me to know that they're watching, or that they spent money to tell me that.
2. Misdirected police. Our officers only have so much time on their shifts. If police are told to watch out for seatbelt infractions, that's time and attention directed away from other policing activities. Chicago police have bigger fish to fry. In Chicago, we have drug dealing, murder, assault, armed robbery, etc. Should more police attention be devoted to policing these crimes? Would it be effective?
3. Some laughs. The advertisements are genuinely funny, but are these laughs worth the expense? I'm not so sure.
Why seatbelts instead of speeding? Suppose we use the money from the ad campaign to hire one police officer and buy one police car. Tell the officer to police a stretch of Lake Shore Drive. Direct the officer to pull over any car that traveling 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. Given the state of driving on Lake Shore, the officer will write as many tickets as his time allows. How does spending money this way compare to "Click it or Ticket"?
If the officer establishes a presence on Lake Shore, people will slow down. If not, the ticketing revenue will more than pay for the traffic cop. Heck, it might even raise enough money to fill some potholes. Is one cop not enough to slow the traffic? Just keep adding traffic cops until people slow down. On balance, such a program would pay for itself and we would induce people to drive more safely. And, it would work a lot better than that flashing sign that says "slow down."
Moreover, speeding/reckless driving is much worse than buckling up. That's because reckless driving increases the risks of all drivers on the road, whereas not wearing a seatbelt hurts only yourself.
My question to the powers-that-be: When our police have a seemingly endless supply of ways to protect us from others' harmful actions, why waste resources protecting us from our own stupidity?