The Blindspots in CDOT’s Latest Safety Campaign

Image: CDOT
Image: CDOT

The Colorado Department of Transportation unveiled the conclusion to a provocative billboard campaign yesterday that reminds drivers and passengers to buckle up. You may have seen the ads around Denver over the last week with inscrutable phrases like “Brain Damage,” “Life or Death,” “Fatal Accident,” and “Windshield Ejection.” Those words are now crossed out with an image of a seatbelt and the tagline “Buckle up. Seatbelt enforcement is on.”

Clever.

Seat belts are, inarguably, great lifesaving tools. Sometimes those lives are unsuspecting car occupants who are rear-ended out of nowhere, and sometimes those motorists are drunk or speeding recklessly through an urban street. Either way, because of the seat belt, tragedies are prevented — at least for people in cars. But seat belts don’t do anything for someone struck while walking or bicycling.

CDOT’s campaign, which includes radio spots and messages on gas pumps throughout the state, is confined to the safety of motorists and car occupants, rather than the safety of everyone who uses the streets.

“Buckling up is the most effective way to protect yourself in a crash, but many people don’t take the few seconds to do it,” CDOT says in the press release. “To remind people to wear a seat belt, CDOT is developing unique and innovative tactics that grab attention and reignite the seat belt conversation.”

Reignite the seat belt conversation? How about igniting a conversation about protecting everyone on the street for the first time? How about a statewide campaign to prevent crashes in the first place by not speeding, and yielding to pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way? Now that would be innovative.

CDOT’s responsibility is to educate drivers on how to protect others, not just themselves, particularly when Denver’s two most dangerous streets are state highways under CDOT’s jurisdiction. After all, CDOT’s Toward Zero Deaths Campaign aims to eliminate all traffic deaths, including people outside of cars.

Wearing a seat belt is state law, but so is stopping for people outside the car with the right of way, which is not lost on other cities. In New York, for example, the DOT has produced a provocative campaign to remind people to drive carefully:

Seat belts certainly have a place in CDOT’s messaging campaigns; more people die in motor vehicles than outside of them, and the campaign will hopefully contribute to fewer fatalities. But there’s more to safe behavior than buckling up — much more. Putting some of the agency’s safety education resources toward materials that warn against the dangers of speeding and reckless driving will help save the lives of people outside cars too.

By the way, not long after I received the first press release, CDOT sent another one. The subject line: “Partnering Agencies Remind Motorists: Wildlife Are on the Move!”

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