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"Battle of the Belts"

After losing four teenagers in car crashes in 2002, Tallahassee has survived 2003 without any tragedies like that. A lighthearted competition among high schoolers to encourage seat belt use has a deadly serious bottom line.

High school senior Claire Thomas drives across town to school every day. She says getting teens to buckle up shouldn't be that difficult.

"I think a lot of times adults think 'Oh, they're too cool to wear seatbelts' but that's not really the case. Everybody wears seatbelts, especially if I'm driving someone else, like, we're not moving until they have their seatbelt on," says Claire Thomas.

Claire attends Florida High, which has one of the best seatbelt usage rates in the county. Godby High has the worst.

Here's a look at how the schools stack up in a recent spot check: Chiles has a seatbelt usage rate of 87 percent, followed by Leon, Florida High, Rickards, Lincoln, FAMU High and Godby bringing up the rear with just half of its students buckling up.

"In law enforcement, we see the effects of not buckling up almost everyday. We see the devastations that occur within families," says Walk McNeil, Tallahassee Police Chief.

Tallahassee police just kicked off the "battle of the belts", which gives a cash prize to the school with the most seat belt users. It's all in hopes that if teens are in accidents, they'll stand a better chance of surviving.

"Your first thought is 'Oh m gosh, are they one of my friends, do I know them'? Then you start to think about the causes," Claire adds.

So as high school students like Claire Thomas get behind the wheel, TPD will be watching and counting and hoping 2004 will not bring news of any more teen tragedies.

Next month the law firm of Fonveille, Lewis, Foote and Messer will give a $1,000 check to the school with the most seat belt users and to the school which is most improved. We'll pass the winners along then.


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