Originally published March 26, 2012
Traffic fatalities on rural roads made up 57 percent of total fatalities in 2007 in Georgia even though only 23 percent of Georgia's population lives in rural areas. Recognizing the disparity, the Department of Public Health (DPH) along with the University of Georgia teamed with the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) to launch a Rural Roads Initiative.
Funded to identify risk factors and ultimately decrease injury on these country roads, the initiative addresses environmental risks such as inadequate signage and striping on roads, behavioral factors such as lack of seat belt usage and speeding, and best program practices and evaluation data. The initiative reinforced that Georgians driving or riding on rural roadways face a much greater risk of being killed or injured in traffic crashes (than those in urban or suburban areas) because Georgians in rural areas are more likely not to wear a seat belt.
Consequently, attention is now focused on increasing teen seat belt usage. The model consists of surveys to determine the current and post intervention seat belt usage levels, incentives to encourage teens to use seat belts, and disincentives for non-usage.
In one collaborative project called "Ghost Out," students are taken from their classes and made up to look like "ghosts," representing teens who died that day in car crashes in the U.S. The students are then asked not to talk or relate to other students that day to show what life would be like to be without them.
Educational materials and often a wrecked car or even a coffin on school grounds demonstrate the reality of this issue.
Rural Road Initiative activities were first conducted in Northeast and Southeast Georgia. The University of Georgia Traffic Safety Research and Evaluation Group conducted pre and post testing of community readiness measures in both regions and compared it to data from the control group, Southwest Georgia. The post data collection revealed solid differences between the control region and the two areas where the program was conducted.
The results indicated that the Rural Roads Initiative moved the community from just recognizing there is a problem to wanting to work with community leaders for change toward safety. UGA researchers presented the data to conferences in Canada, Switzerland and Vietnam.