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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

DPS wants teens to 'arrive alive'

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sikeston Department of Public Safety D.A.R.E. officer Keith Hente sets an example by buckling up.
SIKESTON -- The Sikeston Department of Public Safety will again participate in Operation Safe Teen, a statewide enforcement and educational program to reduce injuries and deaths among young drivers on Missouri roadways.

This is the second year DPS has participated, according to Sikeston D.A.R.E. officer Keith Hente. "Last year we did two checkpoints," he recalled.

The program will begin Monday and will run through March 17 during which time checkpoints will again be part of the program.

While some tickets are likely to be issued at checkpoints, writing citations is not the program's goal.

"We're just trying to promote seat belt usage," Hente said. "The main reason for the checkpoint is to stress the importance of seat belts."

While seat belts are the focus, officers at checkpoints will also make sure drivers have a valid driver's license and current insurance on their vehicles, he said.

As the program is geared toward promoting seat belt usage among teen drivers, the provisions of the law that make safety belt usage a requirement of the intermediate license will be enforced.

Ideally, putting a seat belt on is something you don't even have to think about, Hente said. "Make it a habit so the first thing you do when entering a vehicle is put it on," he said.

Hente said the program's efforts after only one year have shown outstanding results locally. In Scott County, the percentage of teenage drivers and passengers using seat belts rose 20 percent, rising from 24 percent in 2004 to 44 percent in 2005.

"Having the program and putting out the word has given us the best statistics in seat belt usage among high schools in the Bootheel," Hente said.

In October, Sikeston student Rachel Beydler was struck broadside in a car accident but avoided major injuries as she was wearing a seat belt at the time, Hente noted.

Beydler and another student went on to win the grand prize in a contest in which students developed 30-second public service video announcements convincing fellow teenagers to wear seat belts when driving or riding in a vehicle.

Operation Safe Teen targets young drivers because they are a high-risk age group in the state. Drivers under the age of 21 comprise only 10 percent of licensed drivers but are involved in nearly 30 percent of traffic crashes.

In 2003, a total of 288 people were killed and 21,233 were injured in traffic crashes involving young drivers.

On Missouri roadways alone, one person was killed or injured every 24 minutes in a traffic crash involving a young driver in 2003.

DPS received a grant from the Missouri Department of Transportation's Highway Safety Division to conduct the enforcement and educational efforts, according to Hente.

"We're getting grant money from the state to bring out extra officers to help with the checkpoint," he said.

Despite educational efforts, some motorist are still hanging on to myths, among these the argument that they would prefer to be thrown from the vehicle in an accident than to be trapped in a burning car.

The truth is, 73 percent of all ejected occupants are killed.

Authorities advise the best way to ensure you "arrive alive" is to buckle up every time you get into a car.