From left, Jane Harmon, Moffat County High School principal, Police Sgt. Dusty Schulze and Tony St. John pose Thursday afternoon in front of the high school with signs that encourage students to buckle up. The signs are part of a program, starting next Wednesday, that rewards drivers who buckle up.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

From left, Jane Harmon, Moffat County High School principal, Police Sgt. Dusty Schulze and Tony St. John pose Thursday afternoon in front of the high school with signs that encourage students to buckle up. The signs are part of a program, starting next Wednesday, that rewards drivers who buckle up.

Bucking traditional outreach

CPD's seat belt program starts next week

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— History can change people, and people can change history.

That's what Tony St. John hoped to do a little of when he started the Safety Belt Program in Craig in 1994.

This year's version kicks off Wednesday and generally runs to the end of the school year.

Since 1994, Craig police officers have pulled over teenagers because they wore their seat belts.

With lights going and sirens wailing, teenagers may be a little nervous.

After the initial shock, though, the officers plan to reward the youths who are wearing safety belts for being safe with random prize certificates inside sealed envelopes.

This year, officers have 254 prizes to award from about 50 local businesses.

But the program didn't start with the same happy relief.

Thirteen years ago, St. John had a son in Moffat County High School. When that son's friend, Ryan Danner, died in a car accident coming back from Elkhead, St. John and his son were at a loss of what to do next.

A friend knocked on the door one morning to tell the St. Johns what happened.

"We kind of just sat and cried together, the three of us," St. John said.

St. John realized that while his family had been very fortunate to not suffer that level of tragedy, there were other families hurting.

If more kids would wear their seatbelts, maybe mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends wouldn't get that rap on their door in the morning.

"I just thought we've lost too many youths," St. John said. "If we save one student, one young adult, I think the program has worked."

There's room for improvement among high school students, Craig Police Department Sgt. Dusty Schulze said.

According to a Craig Police Department survey Oct. 10, 57 percent of car drivers wore their seat belts in the cars monitored on Finley Lane by the high.

The state average noted in a Colorado Highway Patrol survey found 82 percent of Colorado drivers wore their seat belts.

The CPD conducts surveys at the beginning, middle and end of the program each year. It often finds the program keeps students buckling up, Schulze said.

Every student awarded with a certificate has their names entered into a year-end grand prize drawing.

This year, there are several prizes for teenagers to win, including a car stereo donated by Jackson's Office Supplies, an X-Box 360 donated by Kmart and a prize given by TDS-Tire Distribution.

Program coordinators are looking for more prizes, and have sent letters to the Denver Broncos and Avalanche teams for possible ticket donations.

Craig should be proud of its businesses and police officers for making this program possible, St. John said.

This is a very unique program, Schulze added, and he was not aware of any program like it any place else.

As far as kids getting nervous for being pulled over, they should be relieved to know officers will not take any enforcement action during the stop, Schulze said.

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