VALDOSTA -- Southeast Elementary students left school Friday with a special message imbedded in their young minds -- seatbelts save lives.

And this message could not have come at a better time. Today is the first day of Child Passenger Safety Month.

"I always buckle up," said 10-year-old Aaron Locks. "It's important. I don't want to go flying out of the car if I get into an accident."

A fourth-grader, Locks encourages other to follow his example.

"I tell people who don't buckle up that they should," he said. "It's a bad thing to not do it."

Michelle Sampson, 9, is another avid seatbelt wearer. She said it's not painful or uncomfortable and sees no excuse for those who do not do the same every time they get into a vehicle.

Ikea Calhoun, 9, agrees. She too makes it a habit to always travel safely.

"I always ride in the back," she said. "I cannot ride in the front because of the airbag. It's not safe. I always buckle up."

For a fourth-grader, Calhoun is on top of her highway safety rules.

Dr. Ronnie Mathis, director of the Greater Lowndes Coalition for Highway Safety, said children under the age of 13 should never ride in a seat with an airbag due to the potential for injury, even if it's the cool thing to do.

These Southeast students joined representatives from the Valdosta Police Department, Valdosta City School System, City of Valdosta Fire Department, and others in a special Child Passenger Safety Month kickoff event in the school's media center Friday morning.

Mathis told the students to always buckle up and to encourage their loved ones to do the same.

"Seatbelts save lives," she said. "Highway safety is one of the most important things."

Sgt. Earl Durrance with the police department echoed Mathis' sentiments.

"It is very important to have your seatbelt on when traveling in a vehicle," he said. "It is the safest thing you can do."

Durrance encouraged the students to continue to spread this lifesaving message.

Valdosta Mayor James H. Rainwater signed a proclamation calling upon all "citizens, community agencies, religious organizations, medical facilities, and businesses to increase their participation in our efforts to protect the lives of children by taking every opportunity to enhance public awareness on the proper use of car and booster seats" and seatbelts.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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