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Grant drives seat belt educational program in Ford City

| Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 1:46 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger
Dylan DeShong, 5, of Ford City, is strapped in his car seat by PennDOT Safety Press Officer Jay Ofsanik as Ford City Sgt. John Atherton and the boy's mother, Sara, look on. Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014.

Ford City police and the state Department of Transportation are teaming up to educate students about the law that requires drivers and passengers to use seat belts whenever they are riding in a car.

The educational program at Ford City High School begins on Monday and will feature police officers talking to students about the law and how wearing seat belts saves lives. Police plan to add extra patrols near the school to enforce the seat belt law during the first three weeks of March. The program is being funded by a PennDOT grant.

“This is a public safety issue,” Ford City police Sgt. John Atherton said.

PennDOT statistics show that traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in the state for teens and young adults, and that in most of those cases, crash victims were not wearing seat belts.

“Being properly restrained increases your survival rate in a crash,” said Jay Ofsanik, PennDOT safety press officer.

The law requires anyone younger than 18 to be strapped in, and children younger than 8 must be securely fastened in a car seat.

Eight people were killed in car crashes in Armstrong County last year, and six of those victims were not wearing seat belts, Ofsanik said.

He and Atherton said they have heard a variety of excuses from people who don't buckle up or who drive children without using car seats.

“Maybe people think it won't happen to them,” Ofsanik said. “You may be the safest driver on the road — but what about the other guy?”

And it's not just a teen problem when it comes to ignoring the law about seat belts and car seats.

Police have responded to reports in the past of parents or grandparents picking up children from preschool without having car seats in their car, Atherton said.

“I've seen kids climbing in and out of a car's hatch,” he said.

Ignoring the law can be a generational issue for some adults who grew up before the mandatory seat belt laws were passed.

“That's why it's important to break the cycle with teens and educate them about safe driving,” Ofsanik said.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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