From the Archives: 1970s safety messages

From the Archives: 1970s safety messages

July 31, 2017

1971 Road Sign: "Are you putting me on?"

By Angela DeWelles / ADOT Communications 

Using clever safety messaging to influence driver behavior isn’t exactly a new tactic for ADOT.

Way back in August 1971, the agency rolled out a seat belt safety campaign featuring signs that asked motorists, “Are you putting me on?”

It was a very good question for the time because in the 1970s most motorists weren’t buckling up. Even by the end of the decade, seat belt use among drivers was only at about 11 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Maybe the majority of people on the road in 1971 just weren’t sold on the idea of seat belts yet. After all, they were still a somewhat new phenomenon back then.

The three-point safety belt – the one we all know and still use today – had just been introduced 12 years earlier when a Volvo engineer named Nils Bohlin filed a patent on his idea in 1959. Volvo waived its patent rights so all carmakers could employ the new design, but manufacturers weren’t actually required to install seat belts until a few years later.

According to a 2003 report from the Transportation Research Board, seat belts were standard equipment by 1964 – but only for the driver and front seat occupants. In 1968, a safety regulation was established requiring that all new cars come equipped with both lap belts and shoulder harnesses for the driver and front seat passenger, and lap belts in the back seat. The next big development came along in 1973, when the federal standard was upgraded to require three-point safety belts for front seats.

Fast-forward to today. We are in a new era … it’s a time when vehicles come standard with an increasing amount of tech, all designed to keep us safer. But even with these advancements – from airbags to autonomous features – the simple seat belt proves to be one of the best tools we have to protect ourselves against injury during a crash.

You’d think that by now all motorists would be putting them on, but unfortunately they’re not.

Last year in Arizona, 962 people died in motor vehicle crashes – 250 of them weren’t using a seat belt.

But the news isn’t all discouraging…

Attitudes toward seat belt use have definitely improved since this photograph was taken in 1971.

Late last year, the NHTSA reported that seat belt use in the U.S. had reached 90 percent, which is the highest level since the federal government began regular national surveys in the 1990s. The NHTSA estimates that seat belts have saved 345,000 lives since 1975.

It’s safe to say things have changed since 1912 when the Arizona Highway Department was first established. But you don’t just have to take our word … we’ve got plenty of pictures to prove it. We combed through our archives and decided to periodically post these photos from the past in a blog series we’re calling, “From the ADOT Archives.”