Initiative buckles down on safety

By spreading an old message to a new generation, one FAMU-based organization plans to lower statistics, prevent tragedy, and reiterate the importance of wearing seatbelts through gathering data from intersections around campus.

The Minority Youth Occupant Protection Initiative, which was developed by Charles Wright and K Wilder, is an effort to educate the black Community. It is also a way to unite students from various majors while working in a real world setting to solve the problem of minorities neglecting to use seatbelts.

According to a study by Meharry Medical College, failure to use seatbelts is the number one killer of black children age 14 and younger. It is the number two killer of black men ages 18-25, trailing behind homicide. In the 16-24 age range, 63 percent of total white fatalities caused by motor vehicle accidents were unrestrained, whereas 72 percent of black fatalities were unrestrained. Harsh realities such as these, and the death of a FAMU student involved in a car crash while on the way back to Tallahassee from the Forth of July weekend during the 1997 school year led to the birth of MYOPI.

After a relatively slow beginning, MYOPI has begun its second initiative. This time, with three new campaigns: “Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.,” “Take 3” and “Don’t be a Yo-Yo. Buckle Up Every Time.”

“Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda,” which is in Spanish, is directed to Hispanic minorities, who have high seatbelt fatality rates as well. This particular campaign has also been partnered with the Panhandle-Area Education Consortium, which will be taking its message to 17 other counties in Florida.

“Take 3′” which is a reminder to take three seconds and buckle up, is a collaboration between FAMU, FSU and TCC Chief of Police, who have decided to back this initiative and spread the message at all three institutions. “Don’t Be a Yo-Yo. Buckle Up Every Time” is a partnership with YOMEGA Yo-Yo Corporation.

MYOPI plans to make buckling up a first nature habit. With reminders such as billboards, campaign stickers and slogans printed on church fans. Its goal is to address more than one aspect of a student’s life. Wilder, who has 15 years of experience developing community projects, said that even though these campaigns have been marketed toward minority youth, “it’s not a campaign that doesn’t reach a general market.”

In addition to partnering with all area law enforcement agencies, MYOPI has increased the rate of local seatbelt use by roughly 9.2 percent since its first initiative. The program has been launched at Wakulla High in Wakulla County, East Gadsden High in Gadsden County, Jefferson High in Jefferson County and Cottondale High in Jackson County.

“The 3 seconds you spend restraining yourself is probably the best 3 seconds you can spend in the traveling part of a trip,” Wright said.

With a little behavior modification and the removal of superficial reasons for not buckling up, Wright said more minorities would take this issue seriously.

Alexis Keys, a 20-year-old junior Pharmacy student from Dallas, credits her seatbelt with saving her life. In 2002, Keys was involved in a traffic accident that left her ribs partially cracked. Keys said if had she not worn her seatbelt she would have been thrown threw the windshield.

“I wear my seatbelt every time I’m in a car, no matter who’s driving and I keep stressing how important it is to buckle up to my friends,” Keys said.

According to information from the Department of Transportation, 75 percent of unrestrained car travelers are killed or ejected from their vehicles during accidents.

Wright’s graduate assistant William Curry, 23, from New York City admits to having been a casual seatbelt user before he got involved with MYOPI and became alarmed by the statistics.

Curry has recently begun assessments of drivers surrounding FAMU’s campus and said, “In most instances those who don’t wear seatbelts are the drivers who are either speeding, on the phone, or doing things which are distracting,” Curry said.

Curry said that sometimes he feels better when he is doing the assessment instead of driving on the road with these drivers, he said. Curry said he is saddened by the number of males he observes not using seatbelts and said that the large number of deaths each year is preventable.

MYOPI also plans to extend its message to six other colleges and universities in Florida – including Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona and University of Central Florida in Orlando – where there is a high minority enrollment.

MYOPI’s goal is to heighten the awareness of younger minority drivers, and through these drivers, expose the community to severity of this issue.

Contact Shayna