Audrey Danner, center, speaks to Moffat County High School students Thursday afternoon during a school assembly awarding students for wearing seat belts while driving. Dixie Beck, left, Craig Police Department records manager, and Commander Bill Leonard stand nearby. Danner's son, Ryan, was killed in a car accident in August 1994.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Audrey Danner, center, speaks to Moffat County High School students Thursday afternoon during a school assembly awarding students for wearing seat belts while driving. Dixie Beck, left, Craig Police Department records manager, and Commander Bill Leonard stand nearby. Danner's son, Ryan, was killed in a car accident in August 1994.

Making seat belt safety click

Rewards program decreases numbers of unbelted teens, police say

Safety Belt Award program prize winners

$100 Conoco gas certificate

Donated by Tony St. John

Awarded to Nick Moyer

X-Box 360 gaming system

Donated by K-Mart of Craig

Approximate value: $350

Awarded to Armando Lopez

Four new tires, installation not included

Donated by TDS-Tire Distribution Systems

Approximate value: $500

Awarded to Jordan Clark

Car stereo system

Donated by Jackson's Office Supply

Approximate value: $150

Awarded to Scott Dockstader

In Audrey Danner's view, there is no excuse.

"All the reasons we have for not wearing seat belts - they don't hold water," Danner said to an audience of Moffat County High School students that nearly filled the school's auditorium Thursday afternoon.

The assembly recognized students who were rewarded through the Craig Police Department's Safety Belt Award program. Four grand prize recipients were randomly drawn from more than 200 students who were praised for wearing their seat belt during the 2007-08 school year.

Danner and her husband, Ron, know firsthand the consequences of a neglected seat belt.

In August 1994, their son, Ryan, 17, was killed in a car crash while returning from a trip to Elkhead Reservoir.

Ryan wasn't wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident.

The safety belt award program was created after the tragedy, Danner said, to provide students with an incentive for wearing their seat belt, regardless of their traveling distance.

Danner takes no credit for starting the program. Instead, she said, Tony St. John, who was then a Craig City Councilor, spearheaded the initiative in 1994.

"I was just tired of seeing our youth dying," St. John said, adding that his son, Ty, played high school football and basketball with Ryan Danner.

The Craig Police Department administers the safety belt award program, which rewards high school students who buckle up.

Police officers give students an award on the spot for wearing their seat belts. Students later are entered into a drawing for big-ticket items, including a $150 car stereo system from Jackson's Office Supply and a $350 X-Box 360 gaming system donated by K-Mart.

The four grand prizes added up to about $1,100.

Does the program work?

"Definitely," Commander Bill Leonard said, adding that the Police Department has seen noticeable decreases in the number of unbelted high school drivers since the program began.

This year was "the best year ever," said Dixie Beck, Craig Police Department records manager.

In past years, about 200 students had been awarded through the program. During the 2007-08 school year, however, about 235 students were found wearing their seat belts, she said.

Police officers found some students with a buckled seat belt more than once. Police Department officers handed out 254 prizes since November.

Area businesses and residents donated the prizes, which ranged from discount haircuts to $25 gas certificates.

"The program only works because of the generosity of the community," Leonard said.

The program has an added benefit for the Police Department.

Pulling over students and awarding them for wearing their seat belts allows officers to make positive connections with young drivers, Leonard said.

"The officers all really enjoy the program," he said. "The officers are always ready to go with it."

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