Unity students spreading word about seat belts
PHILO – Melanie Newberry knows the importance of wearing a seat belt.
The Unity High School student was driving to a class at Parkland College one morning when she swerved and flipped her car, landing it on its roof.
Having been strapped securely in her seat belt, she was able to walk away virtually unscathed.
"Have you ever been on a roller coaster that went upside down?" she asked students Wednesday in Krista Ewerk's second-grade class at Unity East Elementary School. "Imagine if you had no harness or seat belt on."
Newberry and three other students accompanied School Resource Officer Kevin Franzen to the school for the first in a series of presentations on Project Ignition, a safe driving program the high school launched in January. Franzen and the high school students will spend the coming weeks taking Project Ignition's message to younger students at Unity East, Unity West Elementary School and St. Thomas Catholic School in Philo.
For one demonstration, Franzen put an egg in a small pinewood derby car to simulate a crash. In one scenario, rubber bands symbolizing seat belts kept the egg from suffering any major damage. In an alternate scene, the egg wore no "seat belt" and suffered the consequences.
Franzen added that the person not wearing a seat belt also has the potential to hurt others in a vehicle.
"That person is kind of like a bullet in the car," he said. "Make sure everybody else wears a seat belt, because you don't want to be hurt by someone else's mistake."
Because Illinois law requires children under 8 to ride in a child safety seat, the Project Ignition team also had a student sit in a captain's chair with harnesses to demonstrate how a properly belted-in booster seat should look.
When questioned about where the safest place for them to ride in a vehicle is, students correctly identified the back seat and correctly explained the potential risks of air bags.
Franzen told students that if they need to ride in the front seat, they should ask their parents to turn off the air bags if they do not do so automatically.
"The air bag comes out and expands quickly, so it punches you in the face," he said.
Since Project Ignition is designed to be an awareness campaign for the whole community, students were given information to take home to their parents. The Illinois Department of Transportation has provided street signs featuring the Unity Rockets Project Ignition logo to be placed throughout the Unit 7 communities of Tolono, Philo, Sidney, Pesotum and Sadorus.
Local radio and television stations are also working with Project Ignition students to produce and broadcast public service announcements. Franzen has also been gathering support from local fire departments and emergency workers to help with a mock accident tentatively planned for prom season.