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FHS students sign on for seatbelt safety

Thinking about potential car safety issues on prom night made Cayla Smith anxious to sign a pledge advocating seat-belt usage every time she’s in a vehicle.

“On prom night if they aren’t safe, they make bad decisions and then they won’t get to graduate high school,” said Smith, an 18-year-old Farragut High School senior, who was among several dozens students signing up for the “Buckle Your Seat-belt” pledge Wednesday, May 3, in the FHS Commons.

“To me that’s really sad, so I signed up because I believe everyone should wear their seat-belt so that they can be safe on prom night [held Saturday evening, May 6],” she added. “It definitely makes you think about it because you hear a bunch of people around school talking about parties they’re going to afterwards and what they’re going to do on prom night.”

Initiating this one-day Knox County high school awareness campaign at FHS as a Leadership Knoxville project, “This is a seat-belt usage campaign,” said Paul James, a project leader from Ijam’s Nature Center. “We’re getting students to sign up to pledge to wear their seat-belts, make sure everyone in the car is wearing their seat belt, and they get one of these cards [inscribed] ‘It’s hard to get a date when you’re DEAD,’ that’s our slogan.”

On the back of each plastic card is the following pledge: “Before the vehicle starts moving, I will make sure that everyone is wearing a seat-belt.”

Scott West, a project leader from Earth to Old City, said that by purchasing gas at any Pilot convenience store, the card not only entitles each student to a free fountain soft drink, Icee, cappuccino or coffee — it helps form a critical habit.

“That reward, even if they’re not consciously thinking about wearing a seat-belt, that sub-conscience message repeats in their mind and I believe the good habit of wearing a seat-belt takes hold, even if they’re not currently using one,” West said.

The project leaders returned to FHS “about two or three months” after taking a survey lasting “about two hours ... based on standing at the exits at Farragut High School with clickers and counting the number of people who came out wearing a seat-belt,” West said.

As a result, “We counted sixty-seven percent of students were wearing seat belts within our study, so there’s definitely room for improvement,” James said. “I was very surprised.”

That’s opposed to a national general population seat belt usage “in the low eighties,” said Don Lindsey, director of public affairs for AAA of East Tennessee, about “observed” usage from law enforcement. “It’s grown over the last several years. ... The national safety belt rate, as for two-thousand-four, was right at eighty percent, Tennessee’s was seventy-two percent.”

Lindsey said in the last two year, national use is up into the low 80s and Tennessee use into the mid-70s.

Concerning car crash victims, “Studies that have come out recently showed that in car crashes with teen drivers, it’s usually — in more cases than not — not the teen driver who is killed, but the fatalities have been passengers or people in other vehicles,” Lindsey said.

West added, “You’ve got to imagine that if there are five deaths in Knox County in automobile accidents with students in high school each year, if you save one life a year, or two or three, then obviously it was well worth it.”

West said that during early period breaks in the FHS school day, “We’re getting just slammed with students. Everybody wants to get one of these cards. Everybody’s signing up. Everybody’s grabbing chicken [nuggets] from Chick-Fil-A. We’re getting an unbelievable response.

“It seems like a simply task as well because there’s not much more of a no-brainer in life than wearing a seat-belt.”

Under the Leadership Knoxville umbrella, “Leaders in the community are brought together that would have never met otherwise, from all walks of life and all charitable organizations, business organizations, political affiliations, from different geographic locals,” West said. “They put us together to form this network of different leaders whose sole connection is our desire to see the community of Knox County and Knoxville made a better place to live.

“Our team, which is one of maybe six teams this year, our team project was to do a project on seat-belt awareness.”


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