The York Area Highway Safety Council has made safe teen driving one of its top traffic safety priorities, and so have State Farm Insurance and 10 high schools that participated in the third annual York/Adams High School Seat Belt Challenge.

Four of those high schools were recognized at a news conference at West York Ambulance, marking the official end of a month-long campaign intended to increase seat belt usage rates among high school teens.

After post-challenge observational surveys were conducted, three of the 10 schools achieved identical high seat belt usage rates of 94 percent. Challenge rules call for ties to be broken with a third unannounced survey, which was conducted at all three schools April 17. On the third survey, Kennard-Dale High School seat belt usage was measured at 95 percent, two percentage points higher than South Western and six percentage points higher than Fairfield. West York High School was recognized for achieving the largest increase in usage, from 59 percent at the beginning of the campaign to 85 percent at the end. Seat belt use increased in nine of the 10 high schools involved in the competition, and final tallies ranged from 83 percent to 95 percent.

The "challenge" was intended to supplement Pennsylvania's graduated driver licensing law, which requires every occupant between 8 and 18 years old to be secured in a safety belt. A seat belt violation is now a primary offense, meaning that police can pull over a vehicle to issue a citation without the driver first committing a moving violation.

The 10 participating high schools were Dover, Fairfield, Kennard-Dale, New Oxford, Northeastern, South Western, Spring Grove, Susquehannock, West York and York Suburban. The schools had the opportunity to be awarded $500 mini-grants from State Farm Insurance for having the highest overall usage rate or for achieving the highest increase in usage between the baseline and competition surveys. The money is to be used to promote traffic safety (i.e. guest speakers, driver education materials).

Since Fairfield and South Western also tied for the highest usage rate, Vincent Cerceo, State Farm agent and chairman of the York Area Highway Safety Council's Safe Teen Driving Committee, decided to award an additional $250 mini-grant to both of those schools. In addition to the mini-grants, Kennard-Dale and West York high schools will also receive a free photobooth for students to use compliments of State Farm. Kennard-Dale will use it for its senior party May 16, and West York will use it for its prom May 23.