Groups like the Seatbelt Crew combine education and entertainment to get automobile drivers on Mumbai, India's crowded roads to buckle-up. Photo by Jerry H./Flickr.

Groups like the Seatbelt Crew combine education and entertainment to get automobile drivers on Mumbai, India’s crowded roads to buckle-up. Photo by Jerry H./Flickr.

Imagine it’s a hot, sunny day in Mumbai, India. Traffic is stopped. As you watch people passing by, suddenly a group of hijras – sometimes referred to as India’s transgender “third sex” – in matching saris file into the streets and strategically position themselves among the cars. Are they extras from a Bollywood movie? Perhaps a flash mob?

No, they are The Seatbelt Crew.

The Seatbelt Crew is a public service initiative of VithU, an emergency App, and Ogilvy and Mather, an international advertising, marketing, and public relations agency. The hijras’ goal is to remind drivers that they have a simple safety tool in their car: the seatbelt. It turns out to be a pretty effective tool as well: according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2013 Global status report on road safety, “seat-belts reduce the risk of a fatal injury by up to 50% for front seat occupants, and up to 75% for rear seat occupants.” The statistics speak for themselves, but seatbelt-wearing rates, as well as urban design techniques that can reduce the likelihood of traffic crashes in the first place, still lag in many cities. Studies have shown that an effective way to increase the use of seatbelts is to strategically combine educational social marketing efforts with legislation and law enforcement – and many countries have set out to do just that.

Countries entertain for education and impact

Popular campaigns over the decades have taken a variety of approaches, from humorous to dramatic. Some have left their mark as cultural treasures and award winning works of art. Others are remembered solely by the lives that they’ve saved.

Costa Rica combines love and the law for record change

In Costa Rica, the Por Amor campaign of 2003-2004 asked drivers, “por amor use el cinturón” (for love, use your seat belt) prompting drivers to choose to wear a seatbelt for the sake of family and friends. The campaign paralleled the introduction of a new seat belt law. The goal was to achieve a seatbelt-wearing rate of 70%. After the campaign, a survey confirmed that a combination of the campaign, seatbelt legislation, and police enforcement raised seatbelt useage by drivers from 24% to 82%, and recorded traffic fatality rates in the same period dropped by 13%.

The United States: Learning from Vince and Larry

The Crash Test Dummies, Vince and Larry, was a campaign in the United States that addressed this serious problem with a humorous approach. The dummies were so beloved that they now sit in the National Museum of American History collections as cultural icons. Their message also has had widespread impact – from 1985-1999, seat belt usage in the United States increased from 14% to 79%, saving an estimated 85,000 lives, and US$ 3.2 billion in costs to society. The Click It or Ticket campaign has continued Vince and Larry’s dedication through a new series, #3Seconds2Life, making an emotional connection between life’s special three-second moments and the time it takes to buckle up.

Europe embraces drama for impact

Language is not a barrier for understanding the dramatic campaign “Do not disconnect the line of life,” produced by the Ministry of Health and WHO in Russia. Likewise, the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership in England launched the impactful seatbelt and road safety campaign Embrace Life in 2010. The video won numerous safety awards, along with attracting 11.8 million hits on YouTube.

Meanwhile, a 2011 campaign in Afyonkarahisar, Turkey promoted that “Life has the right of way over time,” reminding watchers that the fun moments of everyday life are best enjoyed when protected by a seatbelt.  This video, combined with intensive social marketing campaigns across various mediums, local media support, and increased enforcement, all helped to increase the initial seatbelt wearing rate to about 49%.

Entertainment, combined with legislation pushes safety forward

Countries around the world understand the full importance of having citizens wear seatbelts. At least in terms of legislation, the outlook is positive. WHO states that 111 countries (69% of the world’s population) now have comprehensive seat-belt laws covering all occupants. However, to translate this into acculturating social norms towards safety (getting people to actually use their seatbelts) it will take a combination of enforcement by trained police (generally through fines) as well as more lighthearted approaches, from Vince and Larry to the Por Amor campaign. From seatbelts and helmets to speed limits and transport planning that supports safer streets, strengthening safe road behavior will require persistent attention. Yet, the potential societal shifts are vast, for convincing individuals to make smarter decisions today can pass down safer societal norms throughout generations.

What entertaining ways can you think of to promote seatbelt usage? Let us know in the comments!