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Battle of the Belts Urges Teens to Buckle Up

Last year, Bloomingdale High School won the competition that promotes safe driving habits.

Ready ... Set ... Buckle up.

The annual high school Battle of the Belts kicks off Dec. 12 and runs through Dec. 16, in an effort to get high school students to get into the habit of wearing seat belts.

During the annual event, high school students are randomly surveyed to see who is and isn't wearing a seat belt. The school with the most students buckled up wins the Battle of the Belts.

Last year, that was .

Now the school is issuing a challenge to other high schools to buckle up.

Bloomingdale has suffered more than its share of tragedies as a result of students not wearing seatbelts. At last year's Battle of the Belts awards ceremony at Bloomingdale High, a slide show memorial flashed the names Haley Weatherly, 15; Nick Marcotrigiano, 17; Stephanie Ann Culbertson, 16; Tyler Clark, 16; Nicole Petracci, 19.

The Battle of the Belts was started by the Hillsborough County Community Traffic Safety Team (CTST) in 2006. The team meets monthly with representatives from engineering, education, enforcement and EMS to find ways to encourage driver safety among young drivers.

"Statistics do show that wearing seat belts reduces your chances of getting hurt in a car crash," said Bloomingdale Principal Mark West at last year's awards ceremony.

In addition to the random seat belt check, the Battle of the Belts includes a poster contest, a contest for best public service announcement and a best campaign to get students to buckle up.

Winning best poster and $250 last year was Brandon Snyder of Bloomingdale High, with Aaron Phillips of Lennard High School coming in second and receiving $100.

Tampa Bay Tech received first place and $500 for its PSA, "Listen to Your Car's Warning," last year. Winning second place and $250 was Blake High School for "Make Time for Seatbelts."

Best campaign, $500 and a laptop computer was awarded to Lennard High School last year. East Bay High placed second and Strawberry Crest High placed third.

Most improved school last year was Gaither High School with 54.6 percent of students buckling up. The accomplishment earned Gaither $500. Second place and $250 went to Steinbrenner High School.

Schools with the highest percent of students wearing seat belts last year were first-place winners Bloomingdale High School with 93.6 percent in Division A and Blake High School with 82.8 percent in Division B. Each school received $1,250. Second place in Division A was Plant City High School with 90.7 percent buckling up. Plant City received a $500 prize.

All Hillsborough County schools are invited to participate in the campaign this week. In 2006, only three high school participated. Last year, eight schools participated. This year, the team hopes to get 100 percent participation from Hillsborough County high schools.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers, according to community traffic safety team. In fact, teens have the highest fatality rate in motor vehicle crashes than any other age group. They also have the lowest safety belt use rates of all drivers. This rate is even lower when there are multiple teens in the vehicle.

An awards ceremony for this year's Battle of the Belts will take place in January.

For more information, visit the Battle of the Belts website.

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