April 5, 2004 While the foul odor from the Enighed Pond commercial port dredging project put a damper on the V.I. Office of Highway Safety's Community Awareness Day in St. John, the messages nevertheless came through without a hitch.
The Highway Safety team had planned to set up shop outside the Motor Vehicle Bureau to reach more St. John residents, but the stench from nearby Enighed Pond drove them inside.
"The smell was too bad," said Barbara McIntosh, the agency's administrator.
Instead, McIntosh and staff members Linda Peters and Officer Derick Greaves staffed a desk tucked next to the motor vehicle inspector. The trio was busy handing out goody bags filled with car shades and scarves touting "don't drink and drive" messages, flashlights, pens, water bottles, and even a tube of bubbles. McIntosh and company also had passersby fill out a survey about seat belts.
"I do not need to wear my seatbelt if I am not traveling a long distance," read one of the questions.
St. John resident Bill Jerome took the test. While he thought it was a bit silly, he added that if it saved lives it was a good thing.
McIntosh and Peters both had sad tales to tell about people who suffered serious injuries because they weren't wearing seat belts during an accident, or in the case of a child, wasn't strapped into a car seat.
"They were ejected," McIntosh said.
Peters added that the infant is now blind in one eye and suffered a cracked skull.
She said that using seat belts prevents injury and saves lives in 69 to 71 percent of accidents.
"Seat belts save lives. It's proven over and over," McIntosh added.
Drunk driving is also an issue for the Office of Highway Safety, which comes under the Police Department's umbrella. In fact, one of the giveaways was a chart on the back of a key chain that correlates a person's weight with the number of drinks they can have before becoming legally drunk. The legal blood alcohol limit currently stands at 0.08 percent.
McIntosh said that people need to assign a designated driver if they're planning an evening out. She said that's also important for visitors who face additional challenges because they're not familiar with driving on the left or the island's winding roads.
The office also is concerned about pedestrian safety. McIntosh noted that St. John has crosswalks, but that people need to use them. She observed that when problems occur, often the pedestrian and driver are both at fault.
The office is funded by the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which funds the local office $350,000 annually, plus provides another $18,000 for public awareness campaigns like this one.
McIntosh said that the salaries for the four-person staff and three emergency medical technicians who work for the Health Department come out of the $350,000. The balance goes to the Police Department for services related to traffic safety, which include traffic light and speed limit enforcement and combatting aggressive driving.
McIntosh said this year the agency expects to receive an additional $50,000 from the federal government for the Public Works Department, which will be redesigning its road signs to improve safety.
McIntosh added that the agency now has a new program to deal with alcohol and teenagers called Further Instruction in Safety, Traffic and Alcohol, or FIESTA. Students that will serve as trainers learned the ropes of the program in February at Cinnamon Bay. McIntosh said that the students will start teaching their peers next week.
"The message is accepted better [coming from another teen]," McIntosh said.
Peters said that in the first hour, they gave out goody bags and answered questions from about 30 to 40 people. She said one teacher took a bundle of brochures on teen alcohol safety back to school to share with her class.
The agency will hold similar events at Emancipation Garden in St. Thomas this Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at Sunny Isle Shopping Center in St. Croix on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
All three events are held in conjunction with World Health Day, which is Wednesday.
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