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Youths banding together for safety

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Garrett Steffan, 17, is a member of the Youth Advisory Board that came up with the 'Save Face, Buckle Up' wristband idea.

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OTTAWA, Ohio - A group of Putnam County teens has come up with a lightweight, glow-in-the-dark, pastel-colored plan to encourage high schoolers to buckle up.

The rubber wristbands the county's Youth Advisory Board imagined turned out to be such a good idea that the Ohio Department of Public Safety had 50,000 pink, yellow, blue, and peach wristbands produced to remind young drivers to "save face" and "buckle up."

After a kickoff event at the Putnam County Courthouse Tuesday, the department plans to distribute the popular bracelets at high schools across the state. "Kids will sign a pledge card that says, 'I pledge to wear my seat belt every time I'm in the car and encourage my friends and family to do the same,' " explained Liz Christopher, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety. "In turn, they'll get a wristband, a book cover, a bookmark, and a poster."

The materials promote the state's latest seat-belt campaign, which is directed at high school students and features the imprint of a face that has hit a windshield.

Kathy Schroeder, prevention education coordinator for the Putnam County Educational Service Center, said members of the county's Youth Advisory Board initially wanted to have wristbands made for the approximately 2,400 students at Putnam County's nine high schools, but the state said the county couldn't use its federal Safe Communities grant to pay for it.

But that didn't preclude the state from using money from seat-belt fines to pay for the wristbands, Ms. Christopher said. "We took their idea and incorporated it into our Save Face campaign," she said.

Putnam County was glad to share its idea.

Teresa Kuhlman, a junior at Miller City-New Cleveland High School, said a fellow member of the Youth Advisory Board came up with the idea.

"She thought these wristbands would be a cool idea because a lot of kids wear the 'Live Strong' bands, and we thought it'd be a good way to encourage people to buckle up," Miss Kuhlman said, adding that the bands made popular by cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong are popular at her school. "For Red Ribbon Week, we had red bands that said 'Drug Free 24-7.' Walking through the high school you could see just about everyone wearing them," she said.

Miss Kuhlman is hoping the new wristbands will be just as popular and effective - especially with teen drivers who don't always wear seat belts.

Statewide surveys show that 15 to 25-year-olds have the lowest rate of seat-belt use. Surveys done in November showed about 73 percent of the people in that age range were buckled up, while 80 percent of 26 to 64-year-olds wore seat belts and about 85 percent of those 65 and older were wearing seat belts, Ms. Christopher said.

Putnam County Sheriff James Beutler said his office conducts unannounced seat-belt surveys at all the county high schools each year.

"Our compliance rates have really gone up in the last few years," he said.

In 2003, 70 percent of the student drivers at Ottawa-Glandorf High School were buckled up, but in 2005, that figure jumped to 84 percent, for example.

Sheriff Beutler said he doesn't know what impact the wristbands will have, but he figures they can't hurt.

"That's one of those things you can't measure, but it's worth a shot," he said. "I would like to think it would because that constant reminder would be there."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.

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