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Teens help police encourage Utahns to buckle up this holiday season

SALT LAKE CITY — With more people hitting the roads for Thanksgiving, several students want people to know that seat belts save lives.

They are proof of that.

Lauren Monson, Dylan Verbanatz, Brooklyn Hale and Doyoung Park, all 17, and Kaylee Dial, 16, say in a new public service campaign that they have much to be thankful for — especially this year.

On Oct. 15, the teens were coming down American Fork Canyon after dinner, heading for the Orem High School homecoming dance.

“I just remember seeing the car start to drift over,” Hale said, “and we had rolled multiple times into the Provo River.”

The car went off the road along the Alpine Loop near Sundance and down a 30-foot embankment. Other than a few bruises, they survived.

All were wearing their seat belts.

“I feel just grateful that we’ve learned from the beginning to always put it on," Dial said. "It doesn’t seem like it’s that big of a deal, and then something like this happens. And then you realize (that) just taking two seconds to put it on is actually a huge deal that can actually affect what can happen to you.”

The group of friends teamed up Thursday with the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Department of Transportation to stress the importance of seat belt use, especially during the busy holiday season.

“It's pretty inspiring that we have our young adults in our community who make good decisions, and in this case they made a very critically good decision to put their seat belts on,” UHP Col. Michael Rapich said. "Crashes will happen from time to time. A seat belt is your last defense of being able to survive a crash.”

Since 2011, 20 people in Utah have died during the Thanksgiving holiday period —Wednesday to Sunday. This year, UHP troopers want that number to be zero.

And so do the Orem High students.

“It just feels weird when I don't wear it,” Park said with a laugh.

Wearing seat belts has always been a habit for them, the teens said.

“When she called and told us right after the accident happened, one of the first things we asked, ‘Did you have your seat belt on?'" said Kristi Dial, Kaylee’s mother. “And she said, ‘Of course, of course I did.’ It was a no-brainer for her. It's a habit that's been instilled since they were young.”

The highway patrol will have an additional 275 troopers on duty during the Thanksgiving holiday period to make sure everyone makes it home safely.

“We were grateful for seat belts," Hale said, "because if we weren’t wearing them, we wouldn’t be here spending Thanksgiving with our families."

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc