TTU is driving force in Child Passenger Safety Week

With the help of the 7-foot-tall Tennessee Road Builders Association otter mascot, Ollie Otter, state, local and Tennessee Tech University officials are rolling out an innovative child safety seat campaign this week during National Child Passenger Safety Week.

The Ollie Otter Booster Seat and Seatbelt Safety campaign, a collaboration of public and private entities, is the first of its kind in the United States.

Through in-school presentations, an interactive Web site, a vast network of volunteers and the distribution of thousands of bookmarks to elementary school children, the campaign has spread the word regarding the importance of child passenger safety to each of Tennessee's 95 counties.

From Sept. 20-27, officials will be at each of the state's 13 Welcome Centers to permanently display Ollie Otter measuring boards to communicate Tennessee's state law requiring the use of a booster seat until a child is 4-feet-9 inches tall or 9 years old.

The Smith County Welcome Center on Interstate 40 in Carthage was the first to be on board with the campaign. A dedication ceremony, held yesterday, featured a special appearance by Ollie and local seatbelt safety advocates.

The Ollie Otter program, although less than two years old, has been credited with educating more than 55,000 Tennessee elementary school-age children about the law and the importance of roadway safety.

To extend Ollie's message, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development has partnered with the campaign to provide educational information at all the Welcome Centers along the interstate highway system in Tennessee.

"150 million people travel Tennessee's highways on an annual basis," said Barry Young, director of the Welcome Centers. "So Ollie's message about seatbelt, booster seat and construction zone safety is a natural fit for the Welcome Centers throughout the state."

Tennessee has been a leader in child passenger safety initiatives since it enacted the Tennessee Child Passenger Protection Act of 1977.

"The importance of child restraint usage is something Tennessee recognized 30 years ago, when our state became the first in the nation to enact a law making it mandatory for children to be restrained in a safety seat," said Tennessee Department of Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell. "The Ollie Otter program continues Tennessee's legacy of setting the standard for keeping our children safe."

The safety program is a collaborative effort created by Carol Coleman, an affiliate with the Tennessee Road Builders Association (TRBA), and its non-profit entity, the Tennessee Transportation Development Foundation.

"Tennessee's Road Builders are proud to have started this program, that we are confident will make our highways even safer," said Rab Summers, President of TRBA.

To launch the campaign, TRBA partnered with the Tennessee Tech University BusinessMedia Center in Cookeville, which quickly became the driving force behind the statewide effort.

Since its inception in early 2007, the Ollie Otter program has partnered with numerous private organizations, community leaders, and local and state agencies, including the Tennessee Board of Regents Online Continuing Education program, which offers a free, public-service course to teach volunteers how to present Ollie Otter events at local elementary schools.

"This program epitomizes the best of an innovative private-public partnership," said Governor's Highway Safety Office Director Kendell Poole. "They were able to give programs in 149 schools encompassing 2,284 classrooms in all 95 counties."

The in-school presentations feature the life-size, fully costumed Ollie Otter mascot and use educational materials, such as the measuring boards and bookmarks, to inform Tennessee children and their caregivers about child restraint laws.

The program has been so successful it was featured at a national conference and has garnered awards from the Governor's Highway Safety Office, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and Horizon Interactive Media. Other states are looking to adopt Tennessee's booster seat education program, which exemplifies the positive impact of private and public entities working together to save lives.

For more information, visit www.seatbeltvolunteer.org.