Safety belt surveys are an effective way to gauge the impact of education and enforcement on safety belt use. The safety belt usage rate for the Commonwealth in 2010 was 74%, a record high for Massachusetts but still below the 84% national average. As a field observer, you are the key link in the entire effort. In this effort, your primary task is to observe safety belt use in motor vehicles including cars, pickup trucks, vans, taxis and SUV's. You will be observing if the driver and front safety passenger, if applicable, are using shoulder safety belts.

Please consider conducting two short-term sets of safety belt surveys; one pre-survey between March and May 2011 in advance of the May Click It or Ticket (CIOT) Mobilization (May 23 through June 5, 2011) and another post-survey in the summer after the conclusion of the Mobilization to establish a baseline figure and to ultimately gauge the effectiveness of high-visibility enforcement and education in your community. If you are the recipient of an FFY 2011 high-visibility Traffic Enforcement Grant, the department's time and any resources used to assist with the safety belt survey can be recorded as part of your required minimum 25% In-Kind Match for the Traffic Enforcement Grant Program.

Selecting a Safe Observation Point for Data Collection

Your safety is the first priority. When selecting observation points and specific locations or when evaluating potentially hazardous situations, NEVER place yourself or others in peril for the sake of the data. Identify up to three observation locations, if possible, in your community. For easier observations, these locations should be at intersections with a traffic light or stop sign. Departments can use the same location for each survey or varying locations within the community.

Pick a spot where you can observe one lane of traffic traveling in a single direction, adjacent to the curb, sidewalk, or shoulder of the road with limited access, such as a mall or parking lot exit. Watch out for driveways and avoid conducting your survey at night, in inclement weather or when conditions will limit visibility.

Collecting Safety Belt Data

Each observation period is exactly 30 minutes long. The best way to collect data is to work in pairs; one person will observe the vehicles and the other person will record the information. The recorder must use the EOPSS/HSD Community Safety Belt Survey Form on a clipboard to capture the instantaneous verbal statements of the observer. The observer will give the information to the recorder. It may be helpful to have the words "Traffic Study" in large type on the back of the clipboard to reduce the number of inquires from the general public about your activities. In addition, departments should contact the local newspaper using the Sample Community Safety Belt Survey News Release provided by EOPSS/HSD both in advance of the survey dates and afterwards to announce results.

Surveys should be conducted every other day of the week for a total of three days, with results posted at the police station, on the department's website or on Variable Message Sign (VMS) Boards the following day. For example, survey on Wednesday and post the results on Thursday. Survey again on Friday and post the results on Saturday. Repeat once more with a final survey on Sunday and the results posted on Monday. Surveys can be conducted by the department or in conjunction with volunteer groups such as community service organizations or cadet programs.

Observe the driver and front safety passenger, if applicable, to determine whether one or both occupants are belted. In the event that the vehicle provides a lap belt system, record this as part of your safety belt count but include a notation that the lap belt system was utilized rather than the shoulder harness system.

  • Begin the data collection by observing the first vehicle that has stopped at the red traffic signal or stop sign.
  • Record the vehicle position (place in traffic line) on the Safety Belt Survey Form.
  • Continue to record the position of each vehicle until traffic once again begins to move.
  • When the traffic signal turns green, and vehicles begin to move, you are encouraged to randomly select moving vehicles for safety belt data collection. Make sure you are able to clearly observe the vehicle and driver. Record your observations of as many vehicles as possible within the 30 minute period while maintaining accuracy and randomness. A suggested methodology is to select every third moving vehicle for observation.

DO NOT observe heavy vehicles, semi-trucks, police cars, emergency vehicles, buses, school buses or motor homes. If you are unable to determine belt use for the driver and/or front safety passenger, select the "Unknown" box; DO NOT guess.

Remember to observe only one traffic lane in one direction adjacent to the curb, sidewalk, or shoulder of the road.

If possible, departments should use metal Safety Belt Goal and Feedback Signs (pictured) provided in past years by EOPSS/HSD or VMS Boards to notify the public of the target usage rates and actual usage rates for the community. Additional signs are no longer available.

Completing the Safety Belt Survey Form Correctly

Using the Safety Belt Survey Observation Data Collection Form provided, check off the data for the following categories using the box to the left of each identifying factor.

  • Vehicle Position - place in traffic (i.e. first car at the stop light/stop sign, second car in traffic, last car in traffic)
  • State of Licensure - indicate if the license plate is from Massachusetts, one of our neighboring states or another state altogether. You do not need to specify the exact state if you select the "Other State" option.
  • Vehicle Type - indicate whether you are observing a passenger car, van, pickup truck, SUV, taxi or commercial vehicle.
  • Driver - indicate whether the driver is belted, his/her gender and age category to the best of your ability. Remember that you always have the option to select, "Unknown."
  • Passenger - indicate whether the front safety passenger is belted, his/her gender and age category to the best of your ability. Remember that you always have the option to select, "Unknown."
  • At the end of the observation period, review all paperwork and check with your partner to make sure you agree on all points.
  • Complete and submit the Community Safety Belt Survey Report at the conclusion of your survey period, along with copies of any pictures or newspaper clippings from the survey.

For Non-Law Enforcement Observers Interacting with Motorists

If a motorist asks what you are doing, please inform him/her that you are involved in a traffic study that is being conducted in conjunction with the local police department, but do not specify the details. Keep your interactions to a minimum.

If you are confronted by a person concerned with the collection of personal data or private information, please assure him/her that personal data is not being tracked. If at any time you feel uncomfortable with a person or situation that you encounter, immediately suspend the data collection and return to your vehicle.

Contact Information

If you have any questions, concerns or need additional information, please contact Brittany Peters via email at brittany.peters@state.ma.us or by phone at 617.725.3352.

Thank you for your participation in this very important community survey!

Download 2011 Community Safety Belt Survey Data Collection Instructions in MS Word Format doc format of CIOT Survey Data Collection Instructions.doc

Swansea police officer next to sign promoting safety belt percent usage for day