Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Seat Belt Competition Could Help Save Teenagers' Lives

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Seat Belt Competition Could Help Save Teenagers' Lives

Article excerpt

Byline: Marise Nazzaro, Nassau Neighbors correspondent

An initiative to save the lives of Nassau County teenagers involved in auto accidents was launched Tuesday at West Nassau High School in Callahan.

"The Battle of the Belts," a seat-belt awareness competition between Nassau County's three high schools -- Fernandina Beach, Hilliard and West Nassau -- was created by Lt. Bill Leeper of the Florida Highway Patrol to increase seat belt usage among young adults.

"I wondered if the students killed in car crashes this past year had an impact on teenagers," said Leeper.

During August, the officer sat in an unmarked car and conducted a survey of vehicles entering and leaving Nassau County high school campuses.

He found Fernandina Beach High School had a 36 percent seat belt usage rate, West Nassau High School a 32 percent rate and Hilliard High School a 30 percent rate.

Those numbers are in line with a grimmer statistic regarding seat belt usage in the county.

For the past two years in Nassau County, 73 percent of all people killed in automobile crashes, who had seat belts available, were not using them.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of teenagers. In 2001, 42,797 teenage drivers were involved in traffic crashes in Florida, with 30,129 injured and 282 killed.

A 2000 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey of teenagers nationwide showed that many support primary enforcement safety belt laws -- when a person is seen without a belt they can be pulled over and given a citation. In Florida it is a secondary law -- a person pulled over for another violation who isn't wearing a seat belt can then get a ticket. Of the more than 500 young people ages 16 to 20 who were surveyed, 60 percent said they support primary enforcement laws. …

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