Buckle up

Local high school promotes road safety and wins TMA Bucks Seatbelt Safety Challenge

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

In 2008, only 60 percent of Bucks County high school students wore seat belts while driving. Compared to adults, whose seat-belt usage was at 90 percent, this was alarming. After collecting this data, TMA (Transportation Management Association) Bucks had one message for teens — seat belts save lives. Thus, the Bucks County High School Seatbelt Safety Challenge was created. This year, the students at Villa Joseph Marie High School in Holland celebrated their third victory for their dedication to promoting road safety.

Safety first: Villa Joseph Marie High School was the winner of TMA Bucks’ Seatbelt Safety Challenge with the highest overall seatbelt use out of 18 local schools. PHOTO: TMA BUCKS

The main purpose of the challenge is to increase seat-belt usage among Bucks County students. In the fall, baseline surveys on seat-belt usage by student drivers were conducted at high schools throughout the county without the knowledge of the student body or administration to ensure the most accurate data sampling. All schools were then challenged to increase seat-belt usage and participate in the Seatbelt Safety Challenge. Various student groups at each school promoted the challenge throughout the year, and follow-up surveys took place unannounced in April when the winning schools were decided.

At Villa Joseph Marie, the Peer Mentors promoted the challenge to their classmates through posters and announcements, and had a huge part in helping the school bring home the trophy for the third time. Villa Joseph Marie student drivers had the highest overall seat-belt use at 97 percent over 18 other Bucks County high schools that participated. The school will be presented with a trophy plaque and $500 cash grant, which is donated by TMA Bucks and encouraged to be used for safety-related purposes.

“Explaining to your child the importance of seat-belt safety while driving is one thing. Knowing our students do this every day and understand its importance is amazing,” said Villa Joseph Marie High School principal Lauren Carr. “We are proud of our student body for earning this recognition and will continue to emphasize its significance.”

William Tennent High School in Warminster will also receive a $500 cash grant and trophy plaque for achieving the greatest percentage increase in the challenge from 79 percent in the fall to 85 percent in the spring. William Tennent was also voted the winner of the Teen Driver Safety Video PSA Challenge powered by Comcast, which is a component of the Seatbelt Safety Challenge. All participating high schools have the opportunity to produce and submit a 30-second video PSA on teen driver safety. The videos can deal with any aspect of driver safety including seat belts, texting, distracted driving or speeding.

“TMA Bucks continues to be delighted by the positive results that are being delivered through the program,” said TMA Bucks executive director Bill Brady. “For the fourth consecutive year, every school that took part in the challenge posted an increase from the fall baseline surveys to the final follow-up checks this spring. That is a strong testament to the commitment the young drivers in Bucks County are making in terms of making the right choice to buckle up.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic was the premier sponsor for this year’s Seatbelt Safety Challenge, and is a strong supporter of what TMA is working to accomplish. According to Jana L. Tidwell, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. Yet of all teens who died in crashes in 2014, more than half weren’t wearing a seat belt.

“Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries by 45 to 60 percent,” she said. “Villa Joseph Marie and William Tennent students are certainly an example to be followed for all teen drivers when it comes to wearing seat belts and potentially saving lives.”

Since the start of the Seatbelt Safety Challenge in 2008, local student driver seat-belt use has risen from 65 percent to 91 percent, and TMA Bucks believes this number will continue to rise.

“The data is clearly pointing in that direction,” said TMA communications manager David Walter. “With the younger generations growing up in car seats and booster seats, having parents that always buckle up and setting a good example, and just being conscious about making healthy lifestyle choices, I think the data trend we are seeing will continue to rise.” ••