Shelburne Police Lt. Allen Fortin said a 15-second public service announcement about the importance of fastening your seat belt will be running at the Essex Cinemas for six months.
The Safe Highway Alcohol Reduction Program and the Vermont Governor’s Highway Safety Program announced the new educational program during a news conference at the Essex movie theater last Thursday.
Fortin said the target audience for the message ranges from teens to older drivers, but there is a special emphasis on male drivers, ages 18 to 34, especially those who drive pickup trucks. He said data in Vermont show them to have one of the worst records of compliance with Vermont’s seat belt law.
Fortin, who oversees the safe highway programs, said young drivers are not tuning into the 5 or 6 p.m. television news, so it was important to find some creative alternatives for delivering the safety message. He said he was at the movies one night and realized that would be the perfect way to reach people of all ages.
“It is definitely a new avenue to catch a large audience at this time of year,” Hinesburg Community Police Sgt. Caleb Casco said. “It is cold out there and a lot of people are going to the movies.”
Shelburne and Hinesburg were among nearly a dozen local, county and state law enforcement agencies with representatives at the news conference to stress the importance of traffic safety, including seat belt use.
Also on hand was retired Vermont State Police Capt. Tom Fields, who worked with Fortin on the theater project and recently stepped down from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program as a law enforcement liaison.
The PSA is projected to run about 1,500 times a month, ahead of all of the movie showings at the Essex Cinemas, which is locally owned, Fortin said.
The move comes as interest is growing among some Vermont lawmakers to change state law to allow police to stop a motorist who is not buckled up. Current Vermont law prevents police from making traffic stops for failure to use a seat belt unless the officer spots some other violation.
Fortin gave an example where somebody stopped for defective equipment – like a headlight out – which would result in a $162 ticket with an additional fine of $25 for no seat belt. If an officer wants to give a driver a break and not issue the equipment ticket, they cannot just write a ticket for the seatbelt violation.
Fortin said that states that have a primary seat belt law have compliance rates above the 90 percent average. Vermont’s current rate statewide is 84.5 percent, down from 86 percent.
This year, 68 people have died on Vermont highways and about half of those killed in car crashes had failed to buckle up, Fortin said. The 68 deaths are the highest over the past four years, including 2014 when 42 people died.
The four people killed in a single crash in Addison County in August were not using seat belts. Fortin said that no one knows if they would have made a difference, but if seat belts save just one person, they are worth it.
“It seems like a common-sense safety thing. It is hard to think why they wouldn’t use a seat belt,” Casco said.
The advertising spots for the theater were produced by a cinema advertising company known as “Before the Movie,” which worked with the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. The package cost $3,000.
The Vermont Truck and Bus Association, along with Bellavance Trucking Company in Barre have also stepped up to spread the message not only in Vermont, but nationwide by attaching “Click It or Ticket” signs on the rear doors and sides of all their vehicles.
The advertising effort also comes as Vermont police are increasing patrols and traffic stops to crack down on aggressive and distracted driving, speeding, and impaired driving during the holiday season and into the New Year.