Ollie Otter's message: Under 4-9, booster time

Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Ollie Otter teaches preschoolers about seatbelts with Julie Brewer of Tennessee Tech.

Ollie the Otter got a colorful reception at Crayons Preschool on Friday where he drove home the message of the importance of seatbelts and booster seats.

Beyond teaching the lesson of seatbelt use, Ollie's friend, Julie Brewer of Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, asked the children to make sure their parents, brothers, sisters and others buckle up before their car rolls.

It's a well known tactic; getting kids to shame adults into doing the right thing. It's done shamelessly to increase recycling. Even a breakfast cereal commercial shows a young son feeding his father a particular brand to "get the cholesterol off."

Ollie took his message to the Silver Street preschool on Friday and to a big-box retail store on Saturday where booster seats were distributed by Lewisburg Police Lt. Rebekah Mitchell as Police Chief Chuck Forbis looked on approvingly.

It was like Christmas came early for parents of kids who were taught another lesson that was put to rhyme just in time.

The lesson's message is "Under 4' 9" - Booster Time!" It means that if a child is shorter than four feet nine inches tall, then they should be on a booster seat with special belts to hold them safe in the back seat in case there's a crash.

Tennessee state law requires the use of a booster seat until a child is four feet nine inches tall, or nine years old.

This state was the first of all the 50 states to have such a law that was advocated by Dr. Robert Sanders, a children's doctor who also served as the Rutherford County Health director during the 1980s and '90s. He and his wife, Pat, then persuaded state lawmakers to pass a law requiring adults to use a seatbelt. That was also a first in the United States and then-Gov. Ned Ray McWherter nicknamed Sanders "Dr. Seatbelt."

Now, Gov. Phil Bredesen's Governor's Highway Safety Office has awarded at $50,000 grant to underwrite Ollie the Otter's campaign. It's also funded by the Tennessee Road Builders Association.

It's a "great example of an innovative public-private partnership to save lives," according to Kendell Poole, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Office.

The program strove to conduct presentations in all 95 counties in Tennessee and that goal was reached in May 2008. On Friday morning, Lt. Mitchell took Ollie to Fayetteville for another appearance.

At Crayons Preschool, Julie Brewer, Ollie Otter program manager who's based at Tennessee Tech, left a special ruler to measure children's height so parents of children at the preschool might know about their child's height, relative to the state law.

Crayons Preschool is owned and operated by Latasha and Roy Buchanan. They've run the business near the Old Connelly School since 1997. She's now a student at Columbia State Community College where she's studying early childhood education. Crayons Preschool normally has 12 children enrolled. It's licensed by the Tennessee department of Human Services.

An average of five children, ages 14 and younger are killed and 640 are injured in motor vehicle crashes in the United States every day, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Office. Children ages 4-7 that use booster seats are 59 percent less likely to be hurt in a crash than those wearing just seatbelts.