WASHINGTON —African Americans are killed and injured in vehicles at a higher rate than the national average and they are less likely to use seat belts.
Now a group of black organizations, along with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), have launched a new seat belt safety awareness campaign aimed at persuading African Americans to click their seat belts.
“It’s shocking because vehicle crashing is a leading cause of death for African Americans of all ages,” Dr. Avis Jones DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), said in an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com. “The power to be able to change the situation and save thousands of lives each year is in our hands. What caught our attention about this particular issue is the shocking statistics and the fact that it is something that is 100 percent preventable. It’s my belief when people are made aware then their behavior will change.”
The kickoff for the new seat belt awareness campaign was held Thursday at NCNW in Washington, D.C., and attended by various organizations, including NCNW members, representatives of the National Medical Association and Congressional Black Caucus. The campaign includes the promotion of Seat Belt Sunday, to be observed by churches and faithâbased organizations nationwide on Sunday, June 12.
David L. Strickland, NHTSA administrator, said the Department of Transportation has worked for a number of years on projects aimed at getting African Americans to buckle up.
Strickland said the 2008 National Occupant Protection Use Survey “shows seat belt use continues to be lower for African American occupants than for other groups, although it has increased. In 2008 belt use among African Americans was at 75 percent and went up to 79 percent in 2009. But overall in 2009 for the entire country the belt rate use was 84 percent; in 2010 it was 85 percent.
“Basically, I think part of it is a lack of awareness and education about the chances of being in a crash” said Strickland, who recalls growing up with parents who didn’t use seat belts in the ‘70s or ‘80s but made sure he wore his.
“I think a lot of it is frankly cultural barriers. A lot of folks, like me, didn’t grow up using belts and child safety seats. We have much lower belt usage among young people--period, especially young men who think they are invincible. (Traffic crashes are the No. 1 killer for young people from ages 3 to 34, Strickland said.) People don’t want to be seen as a nerd, which is cultural as well.”
Members of the National Medical Association consider the reluctance of some African Americans to wear seat belts a “public health issue.”
Speaking for the NMA, Dr. Doris Browne said, “It’s summertime and people are getting out on highways, we want to increase awareness and focus on prevention.”
Browne expects NMA members to discuss the new campaign and come up with various ways of supporting it when the group meets for its national convention in July.
“We will definitely encourage community organizations to get on board, whether they are general organizations or faith-based and professional associations and this includes fraternities and sororities.”
In 1999, Meharry Medical School convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on seat belt usage. They conducted focus groups to find out why they were not buckling up. Some of the responses:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration already has an African American Toolkit that provides educational materials that can printed and used by community organizations.