Wearing your seat belt while driving is the law, but a recent study at Statesboro High School shows that about half of the students driving to and from school are buckling up.
According to Katie Burkett, program consultant with the Georgia Department of Community Health, only around 50 percent of SHS students surveyed in a recent poll were wearing seat belts – down from more than 60 percent in the fall.
Statesboro High’s Club Pride worked with the Rural Roads Initiative of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in conducting the study, she said.
The group also worked with the Statesboro Police Department, and in an effort to "support highway safety efforts," presented a passive alcohol sensor flashlight to Statesboro Police Chief Stan York.
"The flashlight is an alcohol sensor officers can use to detect the presence of alcohol use," she said.
The reason SHS and the Club Pride partnered with the GOHS Rural Roads Initiative is "to increase seat belt use among ... students," she said. "This initiative is working towards building awareness of low seat belt use through the Drive Alive Teen Seat Belt Program. Teen seat belt surveys were conducted as the students left the student parking lot in the afternoon, and will continue to be conducted throughout the school year."
The goal of Drive Alive is to have teen seat belt use increase, therefore reducing motor vehicle related injuries and deaths," she said.
Statesboro Police Sgt. Larry Kirkland said it is important for not only students, but everyone to wear seat belts because they save lives.
"You know how dangerous it is when people don’t wear them," he said, listing several recent accidents where drivers would have been critically injured or killed had they not been bucked up. "You'd be surprised at how many people have totaled their cars and just walked away because they were wearing their seat belts."
Kirkland said officers would be participating in the study with the Club Pride members this week as well.
He reminded drivers - not just students, but all drivers - that buckling up is the law.
According to information from Burkett, Georgia Law states: “All occupants of any passenger vehicle including pickup trucks must utilize a seat safety belt if they are under the age of 18. When used correctly, safety belts are effective at helping reduce the risk of death or serious injury."
Georgia has a “primary” safety belt law, meaning that officers may stop and cite violators without observing another violation, she said.
Pick-up trucks on rural roads, male drivers and passengers, and young drivers (ages 16-24 years old) are the most at risk for motor vehicle related injuries and deaths due to low seat belt use, she said.
According to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, only 25 percent of our population lives in rural areas, but the number of deadly crashes out on country roads accounts for more than half of all traffic fatalities.
Burkett said Georgia crash statistics show others most at risk of experiencing a fatal crash "are teen drivers – particularly young males, and pickup truck drivers and their passengers.
She feels this information is important for people, particularly teens, to know, since prom season is approaching.
"With prom on the horizon, the members of Statesboro High School’s Club PRIDE want to make sure the students remain safe on the roadways this school year," she said.
The Drive Alive Teen Seat Belt Program uses high visibility teen seat belt surveys (observational surveys as students pull into student parking lot), incentives, "disincentives" ( law enforcement) and programmatic interventions to encourage teenage seat belt use, she said.
The pilot program was held at Wayne County High School in 2006. Burkett was hired to expand the program, and chose Statesboro High School because she was a Georgia Southern University student and felt the city would be a prime location for the study and program.
The first poll taken showed 67 percent of students wearing seat belts, but the percentage dropped with the next two polls, down to 50 percent, she said.
Wayne County's initial study showed only 46 percent of students wore their seat belts, but recent studies proved the percentage rose to 85 percent, she said.
Burkett hopes the program will increase awareness of the importance of using seat belts for both students and parents.