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Participation in program could prove to be a lifesaving decision

The Oskaloosa Independent of Oskaloosa, Kansas

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We will never know for sure, but a recent one-car accident in the Winchester area might well have produced tragic results had the two teenage girls involved failed to "buckle up" after climbing into the vehicle to take off, one behind the wheel and the other in the passenger's seat.

Jefferson County sheriff's deputies Clay McHardie and Dana Boyer aren't too keen on the idea of having to call a kid's parents at 10 o'clock in the evening to tell them their son (or daughter) was killed in a rollover accident on some gravel road out in the country and that's precisely why they're sold on the Seatbelts Are For Everyone program sponsored by the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Traffic Safety Resource Office. Fortunately for them, they didn't have to pick up the phone in the case of 17-year-old Ashton Rene Brown of Nortonville and 15-year-old Kayla Hutzell of Winchester, although Ashton suffered possible injuries when the Honda Civic she was driving overturned along Mooney Creek Road shortly after 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, but the statistics compiled for 2014 reveal that 33 Kansans ages 14-19 died in accidents last year, 18 of whom had failed to "buckle up."

One of the victims, as students at McLouth High School well remember, was 17-year-old Hunter Levi Terrell. To his credit, he was among the 15 boys and girls who had remembered to "buckle up" but, unfortunately for them, still didn't survive the accident they were in.

Just ahead of Child Passenger Safety Week, which begins Monday and continues through Friday, Sept. 18, the paper interviewed McHardie and Boyer for this story. McHardie has been a School Resource Officer since the 2009-2010 school year and is assigned to MHS, Jefferson County North High School and Perry-Lecompton High School. Boyer has been an SRO since the 1999-2000 term and is responsible for Oskaloosa High School, Valley Falls High School and Jefferson West High School. The two divide the duties associated with John Dewey Learning Academy in Ozawkie.

McHardie and Boyer work under the direction of SRO program coordinator Randy Carreno, who is a captain with the Jefferson County

Sheriff's Office. Both deputies have been with the JCSO for more than 20 years.

"It's (SAFE) a good program," McHardie told the paper. "It's designed to bring awareness to the importance of wearing seat belts. If we can reach the kids and we can get it into their heads to use their seat belt, it'll keep everyone alive."

Boyer was equally enthusiastic about the program, which was first implemented in Crawford County in the spring of 2008. "Our goal and passion behind the SAFE program is to better educate young drivers on the importance of seat belts and saving lives," she commented.

Boyer described SAFE as a "peer to peer" program that combines education with incentives to promote seat belt usage among Kansas teenagers. During the 2014-2015 school year, 124 schools scattered across 59 counties participated in the state-funded program, including JWHS andVFHS.

The results for the 2014-2015 SAFE survey show that, on average, 82.4 percent of the students from participating schools were wearing their seat belt when the baseline survey was conducted in the fall and that 86.9 percent of them were in compliance with state law when the final survey was done in the spring. The increase in seat belt usage for the time period covered by the survey averaged 4.4 percent statewide.

According to Boyer, there was an 8 percent improvement in seat belt usage over the course of the school year at JWHS, which has been associated with the SAFE program since the 2010-2011 school year. On the other hand, compliance fell by 2 percent at VFHS.

For the sake of comparison, seat belt usage averaged 79.7 percent on the baseline survey for the 2013-2014 school year and 85.5 percent on the final survey. On average, compliance increased by 5.7 percent over the course of the year.

The 2013-2014 term saw 118 schools representing 55 counties participate in the program.

Information McHardie made available to the paper for publication indicates that all six high schools in Jefferson County participated in the program during the 2010-2011 term but that only three of them did so the following year. The low point came during the 2012-2013 school year, when it was just JWHS that was involved.

VFHS again became active in the program during the 2013-2014 term, and this year, according to McHardie, all six high schools have made a commitment to participate in it.

Explaining how the SAFE program works in a school, McHardie said a teacher who's willing to be the sponsor for the program is first identified, then arrangements are made for students interested in the program to get together on a monthly basis, typically during a period specifically set aside for meetings of clubs and special groups such as a SAFE group. At these meetings, he related, information about the role seat belts play in potentially saving the lives of drivers and their passengers is presented and pledge cards are passed out to students in the hope they'll be signed in short order. The colorful cards say "I pledge to always wear my seatbelt" and feature the mascots of all six high schools in the county.

A copy of the card, one signed earlier in the week by a fictitious boy named Stu Dent, accompanies this story.

McHardie said a drawing involving signed pledge cards is held each month, with the lucky student whose card is picked receiving a gift card good for gas or merchandise. AAA has donated cards for gas in the past, according to Carreno.

Boyer reported that at JWHS, the morning announcements often include a reminder for students to "buckle up" at all times. Other possible educational activities include the posting of notes on lockers, a door-decorating contest, and the creation of posters designed to "drive home" the point that wearing one's seat belt can spell the difference between life and death.

McHardie told the paper that the JCSO has access to the Kansas Highway Patrol's Seat Belt Convincer as well as its Rollover Simulator for use in connection with an educational activity. The Convincer can duplicate the amount of force generated during a crash in which a vehicle is moving at a speed of just five to seven miles per hour, but that's fast enough to convince most people that they need to "buckle up" before the engine is started.

More information about the SAFE program can be obtained by contacting McHardie or Boyer by email. McHardie's address is, Boyer's

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Original Publication Date: September 10, 2015

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