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APHA institute has more Ohio teens buckling up: high school teams use creative tactics to increase seatbelt use.

The sound of seatbelts clicking shut is becoming more commonplace among students at two high schools in Franklin County, Ohio. Working in conjunction with APHA's Public Health Traffic Safety Institute, community health leaders engaged students at Franklin Heights and Canal Winchester high schools in a year-long effort to improve teen road safety through increased seatbelt use.

Funded through a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, APHA's Public Health Traffic Safety Institute is a year-long program that provides learning, training and funding to teams working on traffic safety projects. This year's institute focused specifically on teen driver safety initiatives in Ohio, Kansas, Massachusetts and North Dakota.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, teen injuries make up more than 16 percent of overall crash-related injuries, even though teens represent only 8 percent of the driving public. In Franklin County, teens make up less than 6 percent of the population, but they are behind the wheel in more than 9 percent of all car crashes in the county, said Ann Mehl, MPH, CHES, program manager for Columbus Public Health's Safe Communities Program.

"When they are in a crash, about 62 percent of the time it's their fault," Mehl said. "That's why we want to focus on them."

During the school year, student leaders launched an array of educational and awareness activities and their efforts paid off. Based on spot checks conducted at the beginning of the school year and again at the end, seatbelt usage increased from 60 percent to 74 percent at Franklin Heights High School and from 74 percent to 78 percent at Canal Winchester High School.

"Our role was to help the students become peer leaders in their schools so that they could promote seatbelt use," said Amy Wermert, MPH, injury prevention coordinator for Grant Medical Center's Trauma Program, who partnered with Mehl to facilitate the safety program at the two high schools.

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The dozen or so students who led the effort at each school received training to enhance their knowledge about traffic safety and sharpen their communication and leadership skills.

"We gave them a list of activities and ideas, and a budget, and they were able to determine how they wanted to spend the money, "Wermert said.

Among the many activities tied to the initiative at Franklin Heights High School, student leaders designed a picture of the school's mascot, a falcon, wearing a safety belt and created or designed activities around the theme "Real Falcons Buckle Up." Student leaders wore T-shirts emblazoned with the falcon logo on designated days and distributed traffic safety messages to their fellow students. Also, to emphasize the school's support of the cause, students projected the falcon logo onto a wall in the main hall of the school and used the image to paint a huge mural of the logo. At lunch time, students signed cards pledging to wear safety belts.

Also at Franklin Heights, students created two "superheroes"--Seatbelt Boy and Traffic Teen. The costumed students handed out candy during seatbelt spot checks and participated in a public service announcement.

At Canal Winchester High School, students crafted a campaign around the tagline "Don't Drive Naked, Wear a Seat Belt."

Also, the week before the senior prom in April, students designated a Grim Reaper Day built around the grim statistic that every 15 minutes, someone dies in an alcohol-related crash. For one full day, a student dressed in a grim reaper costume pulled one student out of a classroom every 15 minutes. Several minutes later, the selected student returned to the classroom, face painted white, wearing a card around her or his neck that read, "I am dead." Each card also offered a statistic on alcohol-related crashes. For the remainder of the school day, the "dead" students were not allowed to speak. At the end of the day, as parents arrived to pick up their children, the students could be seen laying on the grass near the driveway, covered with white sheets beside a sign that read, "This is how many people died today in alcohol-related crashes."

While graphic, the activities drove the messages home for students and with hope, will leave a lasting impression as they get behind the wheel, according to APHA Public Health Analyst Mighty Fine, MPH.

"It's exciting to know that the students are so passionate and truly understand how important it is to share this message with their peers," Fine said.

For more information, visit www.apha.org/programs/additional/progaddNHTSI.htm.
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Author:Johnson, Teddi Dineley
Publication:The Nation's Health
Date:Aug 1, 2008
Words:748
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