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Our view: We must all realize the need to buckle up

6:39 PM, Feb. 25, 2013  |  Comments
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Conventional wisdom says that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

In Wisconsin, it seems the state can suggest, cajole, educate and even fine, but it can't seem to lead enough people to fasten their seatbelts before hitting the accelerator.

According to a Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team report, just 79 percent of state residents buckle up, compared to a nationwide average of 84 percent and rates above 90 percent in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. That is despite a concerted law enforcement effort called "Click It or Ticket."

"Click It or Ticket" uses tax money to enhance patrols and educational efforts designed to encourage seatbelt use. Those involved in the program insist the goal is not to write more tickets, but to get people to obey the law, which requires seatbelts be buckled at the risk of being fined.

Last year the state spent $245,000 on television, radio and online ads as part of the campaign, only to see seatbelt use remain static. That might induce some to abort the campaign, but law enforcement leaders and others involved in highway safety efforts insist the investment is worthwhile. We agree.

We can split hairs about how many lives saved it would take to make the campaign worthwhile. Experts say the answer to that is exactly - one. According to federal estimates, 102 motorists would not have died in Wisconsin crashes in 2011 had they been wearing seatbelts.

The jury is out on how effective the advertising portion of the "Click It or Ticket" campaign has been. It is certainly high-profile, with former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver featured in TV ads. Surveys after the ads ran show that awareness of the campaign had increased 12 percent, but it didn't translate into increased seatbelt use.

Another issue is the $10 fine assessed in Wisconsin for failure to buckle up. Officers - since a law change in 2009 - can now stop motorists solely on the basis of not being in a seat belt or restraint, but the $10 fine has been in effect since 1987. It needs to be increased. After all, $10 is less than the fine for most parking violations. If the sanction isn't strong enough, people will simply continue to thumb their noses at the seatbelt law.

But it should not be a matter of sanctions that induce us to wear seatbelts. We all should realize - through common sense - that buckling up can save lives, even our own.

We all should realize that - campaign or no campaign.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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