A new partnership has formed between the Warwick and Cranston Police Departments and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) with the goal of decreasing unbelted fatalities.
In the President’s Conference Room at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Knight Campus in Warwick on Tuesday, Law Enforcement Highway Safety Liaison Col. Richard Sullivan, Cranston Police Chief Col. Marco Palumbo, Warwick Police Chief Col. Stephen McCartney and DOT Director Michael Lewis came together to announce Rhode Island’s newest seatbelt safety campaign, “Reach Across, Avoid The Loss,” a grassroots effort of community outreach from officers in both cities to encourage seatbelt usage.
The campaign, which is funded through a $75,000 Minimizing Suburban Unrestrained Facilities Grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will consist of increased officer and patrol presence, community outreach at events and other media activities. The campaign will also be promoted through both departments’ social media platforms.
“Every bit of media is generated by [the departments],” said Sullivan.
The campaign will last through November 2013, when a final evaluation will be conducted by NHTSA and the effectiveness of the campaign in raising seat belt usage and decreasing traffic fatalities will be determined.
According to a press release from RIDOT, seat belts saved nearly 11,949 lives in 2011, but between 2006 and 2010, “Rhode Island lost 161 unrestrained occupants to motor vehicle crashes,” accounting for almost half of all traffic fatalities in that time.
Lewis commented that since Rhode Island was one of only two states to receive the federal grant for participation in the design a campaign project, the other being Illinois, it “shows the leadership role Rhode Island is taking” when it comes to this topic.
Palumbo, who Sullivan called “one of the strongest advocates of highway safety,” alluded to the fact that Rhode Island is ranked in the bottom third nationally for wearing seatbelts. Rhode Island’s 2012 seat belt use rate, according to the release, is 77.5 percent; the national average is 86 percent.
“The best states have rates up in the 90 percents,” said Lewis, adding that the goal of this campaign is to move Rhode Island in that direction. “It’s a grassroots effort, talking this up”
All involved in this campaign hope this “voluntary action” campaign, as opposed to an enforcement campaign such as “Click It or Ticket,” will raise the seatbelt use rate and lower the unrestrained occupant fatality rate.
“We’re talking about avoiding the loss of life,” said Sullivan.
This new campaign is about what the state can be doing every day to advise and mentor citizens about seat belt safety.
“In order to get seat belt utilization up in the state, and the loss of life down, we need to encourage people to use seat belts,” said Lewis.
Many of the speakers also applauded the General Assembly and Governor Lincoln Chafee’s decision to maintain failure to wear a seatbelt as a primary offense but repeal the sunset provision in Rhode Island seatbelt law.
The legislation, which was signed by Chafee into law on Monday, allows officers to stop a driver for not wearing a seat belt but does not allow police to search the vehicle, driver or passengers unless another violation occurred. It also lowered the fine for not wearing a seatbelt from $85 to $40.
“Now the state of Rhode Island has made [seat belt utilization] the priority it should be,” said McCartney.
The Warwick police chief added that there is a history of successful collaboration between his department and Cranston Police and called the partnership on this campaign a “natural evolution that makes common sense.”
Palumbo believes the new approach to seat belt safety and usage “will achieve objective to make roadways a safer place.”
Sullivan said the parties were made aware of the potential grant a year ago, in July 2012, and within a month the officers had created a “unique” proposal. The grant was awarded in February.
When asked what he felt made their proposal so “unique,” Palumbo felt it was not only the “different message,” but the education, encouragement and predictive analysis components.
“We are going to be putting enforcement in places where accidents are likely to occur,” said Palumbo.
Those areas will be determined through what Palumbo called “data driven approaches to crime and traffic safety,” and a data program provided to the departments by RIDOT.
McCartney believes that the campaign will serve both communities well.
Sgt. Matthew Kite of Cranston Police and Sgt. Jay Farias of Warwick Police are the grant managers for both departments collaborating on this campaign. That means they are the points of contact on the campaign and responsible for putting together specific details such as joint patrols.
“For example, having both departments on the same roadways,” said Farias. By creating a visible joint effort, the officers say the message gets delivered.
Kite explained that one goal of the campaign through education, community outreach and social media will be to make sure people in the two communities are aware of where enforcement areas will be and receiving feedback from citizens.
While he could not speak for Warwick, Kite said the Cranston Police have found success communicating with residents through social media.
As for cost of the campaign, Kite explained that the $75,000 would be used to cover additional patrols, promotional materials such as banners, gasoline for cars and vehicle maintenance. With increased patrols, he said those needs increase as well.
However, the police departments will not be responsible for the NHTSA campaign effectiveness studies. In addition to the final study in November, periodic surveys will occur and results will be distributed to police and media.
“We are not going to analyze the effectiveness [of the campaign]. A third party is,” said Kite.
Kite also believes that Cranston and Warwick will be able to make a difference in other parts of the state through this campaign because many roadways in the two communities are feeder roads to other cities.
“We can affect Providence. We can affect South County,” said Kite.
In addition to the Cranston and Warwick campaign, a second grant, also for $75,000, was awarded to the communities of Smithfield, Richmond and Hopkinton to create a local partnership and outreach campaign besides “Click It or Ticket” in their rural communities.
The rural project will also be a different campaign from “Reach Across, Avoid The Loss,” but both programs will be evaluated by a third party at the end of the project in November.
The hope is that the overall seat belt usage rate will increase and the programs can become a model for other Rhode Island communities and states.