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Last Modified: July 28, 2022

Are ‘Click it or Ticket’ Laws Effective?

Published on February 26, 2014 • Last updated July 28, 2022 by Ken Christensen
Topics: Uncategorized

Click it or ticket image

The History of “Click it or Ticket” Laws

Back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, as seat belts were beginning to become more prevalent in more makes and models of cars in the US, the practice of wearing a seat belt wasn’t particularly popular (U.S. Department of Transportation). Usage rates hovered in the teens as seat belts were merely seen as voluntary. In 1985, the first mandatory seat belt safety law was passed in New York State. By 1990, 37 other states followed suit and made their own seat belt laws. Usage rates continued to be overwhelmingly below 50% in the nation throughout the 1990’s, due to the stipulation that the laws created were only “secondary.” Secondary violations mean that a law enforcement officer is unauthorized to pull over a vehicle under the suspicion of only failing to buckle up. An officer must have a primary cause for halting a motorist OTHER than a seat belt violation according to the “secondary” clause of the law.

The Emergence of Primary and Secondary CIOT  Laws

Starting in North Carolina in 1995, the “Click it or Ticket” (CIOT) campaign began to ratchet up the percentage of seat belt users. The largest push for CIOT came between 2002 and 2005—a period that consisted of the largest percentage increases in seat belt usage in every state that employed such a program. The 2002-2005 CIOT Campaigns began employing “primary” seat belt laws—meaning that law enforcement can pull over any motorists based simply on suspicion of not buckling up properly. Other methods employed by the CIOT campaigns included the following:

  • Heavy media and public relations work (positive ad campaigns)
  • Increasing penalties for both drivers, as well as passengers (anywhere between 10 and 30)
  • Enforcing primary seat belt laws for minors (varies between 16 and 19 by state)

One recent study showed that the adjustment from Secondary to Primary law enforcement affected an immediate 10% increase in the seat belt usage rate.  There are currently 33 states that have primary seat belt laws for front-seat passengers with some including all seats. 17 other states have secondary laws with primary laws included for minors. A recent evaluation of the CIOT in Idaho claims that even with secondary laws, law enforcement is still able to properly combat violations. Secondary seat belt laws are the only form of secondary traffic laws in most states.

A Case Study in Florida

Click it or ticket image

In 2002, Florida made the change from secondary to primary seat belt laws. Florida already had high usage rates (80.9%) at the beginning of the CIOT program, yet the State Government felt confident in the results previously seen in nearby states. The Case study found:

There was a significant 4.3-percentage-point increase in seat belt use immediately after Florida’s primary law upgrade from June to July 2009, which followed a 3-point gain following the May 2009 CIOT mobilization, for a total increase of 7.3 percentage points.

By the end of the 3+ year campaign, a survey found that 94% of people were aware of the program. The campaign was especially effective with demographic groups that typically had the lowest seat belt usage rates. These groups consist of:

  • rural residents
  • African-Americans
  • younger (particularly the 16-24 range)
  • pickup trucks drivers

Florida was the first state among the group of 10 states moving to Primary to be evaluated. Their CIOT campaign included a relatively high fine ($30) and an even greater penalty for minors, and the price of appearing in court, etc. The CIOT program can largely be seen as a success in this case. In 2009, the usage rate spurred to nearly 86%. In Idaho, the adjustment to primary seat belt enforcement (CIOT) led to an initial jump in 10 percentage points. The most significant change occurred in 2003, as drivers were forced to pay an initial $10 if passengers in any seated area were not buckled even if they themselves were buckled. If the driver is under 18, the ticket automatically moved to over $50.

Overall Effects of “Click it or Ticket” Laws

Over the course of 16 years (1991-2007), seat belt usage rates increased by about 20 percentage points (+23) points in observed belt use in America. The CIOT campaigns came at a necessary time when stagnation of belt-wearing rates occurred in the 1990s. There have been consistent upward trending rates of usage nationwide since the onset of CIOT, and overall a 20% increase in the daytime and observed rates of seat belt usage.

Level of Enforcement

Based on recent evaluative studies of “Click It or Ticket” campaigns, the largest determinant of success is the degree of enforcement of the new laws and policies. The National Technical Information Service has made the following statement relating to the enforcement of primary and secondary seat belt laws:

The clearest and most consistent finding in this study was that secondary States with the greatest improvements in seat belt use had much greater levels of enforcement than secondary States with the least change; 3 to 4 times as many citations per capita.

Continued high levels of enforcement are thought to continue the upward-sloping curve for seat belt wearing. The evidence also shows that increasing the fines and penalties does have an impact on seat belt use percentages. Although law enforcement measures have certainly increased after the new “Click It or Ticket” laws came into effect, the number of tickets given out by traffic patrol officers has decreased in the past 5 years in a number of states. This is thought to be a result of increased awareness by the driving community of the new laws leading to an avoidance of future tickets.


In contrast to the benefits of increased law enforcement, no correlation was found to exist between the larger per-capita spending on media/public relations and higher belt usage rates. A recent study on the usefulness of media campaigns found that because of no existing correlation:

There is a year-to-year downward trend in the amount of money devoted to paid media and in the number of belt use citations issued.

Some media directives have been utilized to show that PR programs can influence the awareness for the CIOT laws, including leading to an increased favorable rating for the policy. One such successful campaign took place in Idaho as the CIOT message transitioned the conception of seat belt laws as relating to a community-based issue (saving overall health cost dollars and taxes) instead of merely “personal liberty.”

Utah’s Current Seat Belt Laws

Utah is one of the 17 states employing secondary seat belt laws for all adults in the front seats. Primary style seat belt laws are in force for all children under the age of 19, however. The success of Utah’s own “Click It or Ticket” campaign can be seen by the following increase:

  • 67.4% in 2000
  • 81.9% in 2012

Recently, the Utah Highway Patrol has increased the focus of the continued CIOT program by focusing on SUV and Truck drivers. Only 69% of SUV and Truck drivers wear seat belts, whereas 86% of all other drivers consistently wear seat belts. Despite a false sense of security that pickup-truck drivers may feel, (with lower seat belt percentages) they represent the highest crash rate per vehicle in Utah (making up 25% of all registered vehicles). Less is spent each year (compared to the surge of spending 10 years ago) on the CIOT PR campaigns, but social media and advertisements continue to positively reinforce the laws and an increased seat belt usage rate.

At Christensen & Hymas, we encourage all motorists to learn about proper auto safety, especially when ensuring that seat belts are worn whenever an automobile is in motion. Make sure that not only your own seat belt is securely fastened each time you enter a car, but the other passengers as well. If you or someone you know has been injured in an auto accident, we are experts on Utah personal injury law. Call us at 1-(855)-245-6859 for a free consultation. Our dedicated lawyers can help fight for your unique cause and provide the information you need to get the money that you deserve.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Video courtesy of “Click it or Ticket” Utah.


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