The only dummies about seat belt safety Marion High School Principal Tod Gordon wants in his school are Vince and Larry, the crash test dummies who Thursday helped introduce the Seatbelts Are For Everyone (SAFE) program at a school assembly.
“I was shocked the first time I stood out there and looked,” Gordon said. “I stood over on the corner, and I counted only about 20 kids who left here with seatbelts on.”
Sponsored by the Kansas Traffice Safety Resource Office, SAFE is a student-driven education program designed to save lives by increasing seatbelt use and decreasing distracted driving behaviors such as texting.
MHS Key Club has taken responsibility for implementing the program, and last week eight members in bright yellow safety vests conducted an observational survey of seatbelt use as students left Marion High School. Students were not told what was happening.
“We told everyone we were collecting data for Gary Stuchlik’s class. We really wanted to keep it quiet so that it was a realistic survey,” Key Club sponsor Janice Waner said.
SAFE Coordinator Laura Moore revealed the results at the assembly by having 10 students line up on stage and then asking four of them to step backwards.
“This is 60 percent of your student population that is wearing seatbelts,” Moore said, pointing to the six in front. “The 40 percent, the four in the back, represent those of you who do not wear your seatbelts and are at high risk. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers.”
Two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, and two freshmen comprise the committee that will determine the SAFE education activities for MHS, the first high school in Marion County to participate in the program. Moore said this is a unique feature of the program that makes it effective.
“It’s student-run, and how you do it is up to each high school team, not the adults. When peers educate their peers, rather than teachers educating students, we get a better response,” Moore said.
“We’re not very far into the program to know what our plan is of what we want to do,” Waner said. “We really want to plan some things for basketball games, so it’s very visible in the community also. Sometimes the elementary school has safety things, and hopefully we could get involved with those, too.”
Moore encouraged students to learn quickly and start using their seatbelts, because they will soon be scrutinized by law enforcement.
“At the end of February and the beginning of March, there’s going to be big time enforcement around your high school,” Moore said. “That means that law enforcement — the police department, sheriff’s department, Kansas Highway Patrol — are going to be patrolling around the school, issuing tickets to anyone not wearing their seatbelt.”
The program includes incentives such as gift certificates that will be awarded monthly at school assemblies to those who have signed pledge cards to wear seat belts regularly.
“There are four donors that donate money we use across the state: the AAA Safety Fund of Kansas, State Farm Insurance, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Kansas regional trauma councils,” Moore said. “Without those groups, SAFE wouldn’t be possible.”
Moore provided start-up funds for the MHS program, but in future years it will be up to the school to work with community partners to raise the funds to continue it.
“We’ve got to get these kids to buckle up,” Gordon said. “We’ve got the right people involved . If we can get more to buckle up, we’re changing a trend, and maybe we can save a life or two.”