The Office of Highway Safety is spending big bucks at the track in an effort to encourage using seatbelts and driving sober.
At the recent NASCAR races held at Dover Downs speedway, the office spent $270,000 to sponsor three drivers in races May 30 - June 1. Additionally, the office has paid $270,000 to sponsor the NASCAR Nationwide Series Buckle Up 200 for two years.
This fall, Alison Kirk, spokesman for the Office of Highway Safety, said the office will do it again.
The office is in the second year of a three-year sponsorship of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Race “Drive Sober 150” to discourage drinking and driving. The total cost is $285,000. Kirk said she is unsure if the office would sponsor drivers at the fall event, or how much they would pay if they do so.
A team that includes Office of Highway Safety Jana Simpler, traffic safety managers and Kirk review proposals and will decide, she said.
Money to sponsor races and drivers comes from federal grant money that the office applies for, said Kirk.
The money can only be used for educational and enforcement programs, not for infrastructure projects.
In the case of the racetrack, Kirk said money is well spent because the office reaches thousands of people.
Kirk estimates about 3,000 people came through interactive displays over the weekend. A FanZone near the track featured games and trivia based on seatbelt and other traffic safety education, Kirk said. The turnout was significant compared other events held throughout the state, she said.
The Buckle Up campaign also received exposure as drivers participated in community events. Team uniforms, racecars and banners placed in the pit stop promoted the campaign, that was televised on ESPN, she said.
While Kirk said she believed the racetrack campaign was a success, the office is collecting data on media exposure and the number of people who participated in the event to determine the impact.
“This is a federally funded and approved paid media sports marketing program that provides a great platform to promote the Click It or Ticket safety campaign to the audience at the track and on national TV,” Kirk said.
Kirk defended the money spent at the races and said it is less than what is spent as the result of people driving without seatbelts. She said the taxpayer cost of police and emergency responders; medical transports; resources to handle road closings and repairs; investigative resources; and emergency room and hospital care is significant.
"To the extent that this education campaign can encourage one person to wear a seatbelt and avoid the tragedy, in our view it is money well spent," Kirk said.