Katlyn Marie Marchetti, known as Katie to her family and friends, was a vibrant, loving, community-oriented 16-year-old who dreamed of a career in fashion or interior design. She mentored young women through her participation in the Ophelia project, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging middle- and high school-aged girls to believe that an individual's true beauty comes from within. She was an extraordinary young woman.
And yet, Katie was, in many ways, a typical teenager. She loved to shop and to travel and to spend time with her friends and family. As a junior at Durant High School in Valrico, Florida, Katie planned to take the SATs in April and spend her summer examining colleges. Her entire future was ahead of her, and it would have been bright.
But on March 3, 2006, Katie was involved in a tragic car accident that ended up claiming her life early the following morning. To the devastation of her family, she was not wearing her seatbelt.
Katie's decision to forego the use of her seatbelt is not uncommon. Among the entire population, teenagers are the most likely to neglect this important life-saving measure. In fact, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found that only 69 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds use safety belts, compared with 82 percent of children and 79 percent of adults. Among 16- to 19-year-olds, the statistics are more troubling: only 40 percent wear their seatbelts consistently. The Fatality Analysis Reporting System shows that 63 percent of teens killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts.
Surveys of teenagers shed light on why they choose to neglect "buckling up." Many believe that seatbelts are "as likely to harm as to help." Some believe that crashes that occur close to home are usually "not as serious." And roughly 30 percent affirm that they would feel self-conscious if they were going against the group norm in wearing a seatbelt.
These statistics are troubling and should give parents pause. NHTSA has estimated that approximately 14,164 lives were saved in 2002 by seatbelt use, and yet people choose not to take this simple precaution. What can be done to encourage them to do so?
Highly publicized and visible increased enforcement of seatbelt laws have proven effective in increasing their use. Peer-led education and awareness are helping to change youth attitudes about seatbelt use. Parental involvement is absolutely critical - children who observe their parents using seatbelts and obeying traffic laws are more likely to model this behavior. Technological reminders (buzzers, lights, dashboard messages) that remain on until the seatbelt is fastened are proving to be a promising catalyst for increased seatbelt use. Studies show that these "annoyances" may be the most effective in reminding teens to buckle up. I call upon the automobile industry to expand the manufacture of vehicles with reminders that do not disengage until the seatbelt is fastened.
I admire the courage of the Marchetti family in channeling their grief over Katie's loss to educating teens and their parents about the importance of seatbelt use. I stand with the Marchettis and plead with all Americans to "cross it, click it, and live."
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