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Ed Yeates ReportingUtah teenage drivers and their passengers are dying or getting injured in staggering numbers because they won't buckle up. The health department's Violence and Injury Prevention Program is about to get tough.
Though teen drivers makeup only 7 percent of Utah's licensed drivers, they're involved in 27 percent of the accidents and 18 percent of all fatal crashes. Those are the latest stats compiled from 2005, and growing.
Adults snap on their seat belts, but teens don't. While the state's overall compliance rate is 89 percent, it's only 67 percent for teenagers. Even with tighter laws on teens to buckle up, they're still not doing it.
While students we talked to are complying, they know where their peers are coming from.
Mark Farmer said, "No one has safety in mind when you're all hanging out with friends. It's, ‘Oh, let's take off.'"
Bailey Hettinger said, "Teens think they are invincible, that sort of thing, that they can't get hurt. And so that mentality just feeds into them."
Nate Hankins said, "They think they're too cool or maybe they might forget, or anything like rebel from their parents, maybe."
Gary Mower, with the Violence & Injury Prevention Program, says we should be prepared for an aggressive campaign, one that for noncomplying teens may be hard to swallow. New ads will use the word "stupid" liberally.
Mower said, "We did ‘Don't drive stupid' because that's kind of in your face. You know don't drive stupid. And you can say it several different ways. Don't drive - stupid, don't drive stupid."
The "In Your Face" message will hit home for many but won't be necessary for others.
Murray High senior Stacey Hansen said, "I won't drive anywhere until everybody has their seatbelts on. When I'm driving and their life is my responsibility, I don't want it to be in jeopardy."
Katie DeSantis said, "I was making a left-hand turn and I was hit head-on. My air bags deployed, and if I wasn't wearing my seat belt, I could have been seriously injured."
Police will be beefing up checkpoints, and schools may forfeit a student's parking pass for repeated violations.
With no improvement in seatbelt compliance, vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for teens in Utah.