Colorado DOT Claims Its Latest Seat Belt Campaign Saves Pedestrians

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Photo: Colorado DOT

Billboards reminding people to wear seat belts are not an innovative way to end traffic deaths, but they are an easy box to check. Colorado DOT’s latest iteration of the tired tactic comes in the form of a giant airbag downtown that warns drivers and passengers not to depend on said airbag to save their lives — depend on a seat belt instead.

Seat belts, of course, do save lives. They can prevent tragedies — for people in cars. But they don’t do anything for people struck by drivers while walking or biking. Right?

Nope, says Colorado DOT spokesman Sam Cole, who pitched the agency’s new campaign to the media in an email Wednesday:

Part of Beware of the Beltless, one of the largest seat belt safety campaigns ever undertaken by CDOT, the wall scape in downtown Denver raises awareness that refusing to buckle up is not a victimless crime — an unbuckled person poses a risk to themselves, other people in the vehicle, and even those outside the vehicle.

Those people outside the vehicle Cole refers to? Pedestrians. “An unsecured driver who swerves to avoid a collision can easily be thrown into the passenger seat and lose control of the vehicle, endangering other vehicles and pedestrians alike,” the campaign’s website states. Bit of a stretch.

The real threat to people walking and biking is not an unbuckled driver or passenger. It’s drivers who speed and the wide open streets, many of them under the jurisdiction Colorado DOT, that encourage such behavior. A pedestrian hit by a driver going 20 mph has a much better chance of surviving than if she’s hit by a driver going faster, according to data from the AAA Safety Foundation. The chance of death increases exponentially as speed increases.

Why not protect people from crashes on the front end with a statewide campaign against speeding? Or one encouraging drivers to yield to pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way, like this provocative ad from the New York DOT?

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging seat belt use, but to pass it off as a strategy to save pedestrians from dying is disingenuous.

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