Students train to teach others about safe driving

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By Tom Wilmoth

    In 2012 Bedford County had more driving fatalities—20—than any other locality in this region. Four of those were teenagers; a fifth was killed in a Franklin County accident.

    That’s why some 200 teen drivers from the county’s three high schools met last Friday at Jefferson Forest High School as part of a Youth of Virginia Speak Out (YOVASO) event to train them to be leaders for safe driving in their schools.
    And the event began on a somber note as pictures of Bedford   County   teens   who recently died in automobile accidents appeared on a screen behind Tim Groover, chairman of BEDCO Cares (Bedford County Combined Accident Reduction Effort). One of those teens was his daughter who was killed in an accident a decade ago.
    “I can’t do a fraction of what you can do (for your peers),” Groover told the students. “We are very proud of what you’re doing.”
    Groover was at the start of Friday’s seminar to hand out $1,000 checks from BEDCO Cares to representatives from each of the three high schools’ YOVASO groups.
    Friday’s event gathered the high schoolers together so they could train to be peer leaders for safe driving in their respective schools.  The joint training session went from 9:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. and was sponsored by YOVASO.
    The grants will be used by the clubs to fund school programs that promote safe and responsible driving and encourage students to make positive changes in their driving behaviors, skills and attitudes. 
    The all-day training session covered a variety of topics designed to prepare the students to lead safe driving programs in their schools and within the Bedford community. The training included: the high-risk teen driver - an overview of how and why teen’s crash; top causative factors in teen crashes and fatalities in Virginia; action-planning for successful programs that promote safe and responsible driving and change behaviors;
the role of a peer leader and how to lead a safe driving club; and
goals and expectations for YOVASO member clubs
    YOVASO is Virginia’s Peer-to-Peer Education & Prevention Program for Teen Driver Safety. YOVASO was formed in 2001 under a Virginia Highway Safety Grant and membership is open to all Virginia high and middle schools.  BEDCO Cares is a broad-based community coalition dedicated to reducing the high number of traffic crashes and related deaths among Bedford County teens. 
    Over the past 12 years, the number of teens seriously injured in crashes in Bedford County has ranged from a high of 81 in 2000 to a low of 23 in 2011. Since 2009, there has been a significant drop in the number, falling by more than 50 percent from 61 in 2008 to 25 last year.

Forest Middle School wins award
    Middlesex High School in Middlesex Co. and Forest Middle School in Bedford County were the statewide winners of the 2013 “Save Your TAIL-Gate, Buckle Up” (SYT) campaign sponsored byYOVASO, the Virginia State Police Association and the Allstate Foundation. Middlesex placed first in the high school division and Forest placed first in the middle school division.
    Forest will receive $500, a banner and plaque for its first place win among middle schools.    All prizes for the “Save Your Tail-Gate” Campaign were funded by a $10,000 grant from the Allstate Foundation. The grant also funded additional campaign materials. “The Allstate Foundation supports programs that have the best potential for improving the lives of youth in our local communities,” said Shelva Clemons, Allstate Foundation spokesperson. “The ‘Save Your Tail-Gate, Buckle Up” Campaign is one of those programs. This grant allows us to give back in a manner that reflects our commitment to the community.”
    Fifty-eight schools participated in the annual campaign that ran from September 16 to October 11. Winners were selected based on the quality and effectiveness of their campaign, including the impact of educational and awareness activities, the percentage increase in seat belt use by students, and the percentage of students who signed the pledge to always buckle up. Among the schools that completed the campaign, Forest Middle School increased belt use by 25 percent, from 50 percent during the pre-survey to 75 percent in the post-survey.
    “The goal of the campaign is to make buckling up a habit for everyone,” said Sarah Watson, YOVASO Program Development Coordinator. “Out of the 83 teen fatalities in Virginia last year, 32 of those teens were not wearing their seat belts. Through our campaigns, YOVASO strives to educate teens about the life saving benefits of seat belts.”
    The participating schools sponsored hundreds of events aimed at increasing seat belt use. Some examples include buckle-up themed tailgate parties, safety demonstrations, unique buckle up shirts and posters, pep rallies promoting traffic safety and social media campaigns. Members of the school’s YOVASO clubs also sponsored educational programs on seat belt safety and rewarded participants with mini footballs, temporary tattoos, tire gauge key chains, tip cards, pledge cards and other materials imprinted with the buckle up message.