Police award youth for seat belt use

Program offers officers, students a chance to interact under positive circumstances

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Officer Travis Young eyed the target driving southbound on Finley Lane after it pulled out of the high school, lurching his patrol car across the road in pursuit.

With a tire-screeching east turn onto 9th Street, the Craig police officer turned on the car's over-head lights as both vehicles flew down a hill, before slowing to the right side of the road to a stop.

Young approached the passenger's side deliberately; on this contact, at least, trying to hide a laugh with his hands.

"You were wearing your seat belt," he told young Jori Holleneck, who was at a loss when asked by the officer why she thought she had been stopped.

It was the first time the Moffat County High School junior had been stopped for anything by anyone.

"I was like, 'Holly...,'" said Holleneck, adding she thought she might possibly have been speeding, or her Mazda might have a missing taillight.

Holleneck, instead, received a Craig police seatbelt award as part of the department's program, which runs from September to May. Students stopped by officers get gift certificates valued at about $10 to $20 good at various area businesses. Names of the youth stopped for the awards are entered into a drawing for larger prizes given out toward the end of the school year.

For her troubles, Holleneck earned a discount for an oil, lube and filter change at Craig's Victory Motors.

"It's a habit," she said of wearing a seatbelt. "When I get into people's cars, I say 'buckle up'."

Young said that's the whole point with police's seat belt awards. It's the second year he's participated in the program.

Young, going on two years with Craig department, said officers typically have time to give the awards out during day shifts.

"We watch them somewhere on Finley Lane here, leaving school and coming back," he said. "The kids will see you sometimes and put their seat belts on real quick."

After running routine checks for warrants and insurance, usually still-in-shock kids receive envelopes with the gift certificates. Parting 'thank yous' to officers are perhaps just a little more sincere.

"It's rewarding for myself," Young said. "The best part is seeing their faces when they're told they have been pulled over for awards."

"So many times we contact people for things that aren't good. They kind of realize that we're not always serious, and pretty good people."

Young said he believes the program does leave impressions with teen drivers.

"Even if kids are just putting their seatbelt on for that reason (the award), it's still good if they're involved in an accident and we can help save a life," he said.

More than 70 percent of 16- to 20-year-olds killed in Colorado traffic crashes in 2001 were not wearing seat belts, according to recent study commissioned by the Colorado Department of Transportation. The CDOT research also shows that nearly one in five drivers in crashes resulting in injuries in 2000 were under 21.

"If a parent made it important to always wear a seat belt, the kids usually follow in their footsteps," Young said.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com

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