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Local nonprofit combats negative seat belt safety perceptions

February 29, 2008

As recent reports of “tween” idol Miley Cyrus’ lack of seat belt usage in her new 3D concert movie have prompted a local nonprofit organization to team up with Loyola University New Orleans mass communication students to encourage New Orleans metro-area tweens to buckle up.

Statistics indicate that seat belt usage in Louisiana has declined steadily since 2006, especially in areas hit hard by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For a campaign sponsored by Safe Kids Buckle Up, a team of Loyola University New Orleans students have come together through the Public Relations Student Society of American (PRSSA) to address the issue of seat belt usage among tweens.

In January, the Loyola PRSSA Bateman Team, a PRSSA competing team of students selected by Loyola mass communications faculty, researched the current safety behaviors of tweens throughout the New Orleans metro area. In their survey of 323 tweens, ages 11 to 14, they found that only 45 percent of respondents say they always buckle their seat belts. Moreover, 17 percent of tweens surveyed say that their guardians rarely or never remind them to buckle up.

A statewide survey in 2005 by Applied Technology Research Corp. found that seat belt usage in the New Orleans area has fallen 5.9 percentage points over pre-hurricane levels. Similarly, Louisiana has a fatality rate of 2.14 people per 100 million miles traveled, making it one of the most dangerous places to drive in the United States. Car accidents, especially those in which victims are not buckled in, remain the number one killer of children ages 5 to 14 in Louisiana and throughout the country.

To encourage more tweens to buckle up, the Loyola PRSSA Bateman Team launched their Step-Up/Strap-In program at various tween and family oriented venues such as Clearview Mall, Airline Skate Center, Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas, and Audubon Zoo’s Stomp the Zoo.

In addition, the team created educational programs that kicked-off on February 22, at various local public, charter and parochial schools. The programs, which focus on responsible decision-making and proper seat belt usage, incorporate volunteers from Loyola’s National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) of fraternities and sororities and challenges tween participants to Step-Up/Strap-In. The program encourages students to participate through the use of an interactive educational session that combines a step show and a group discussion led by the NPHC college volunteers.

For a more detailed list of events or further information about Safe Kids Buckle Up, please contact Kelly Rayner in the Loyola University School of Mass Communication at kjrayner@loyno.edu.

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