When jetliners crash and kill passengers, they always make the news.

But the number of deaths from car crashes in the country is like two jetliners going down each week, said Wayne Harper, director for the Center for Traffic Safety based in York County.

"That's how severe and pervasive the problem is," Harper said.

So the York/Adams High School Seat Belt Challenge aims to get more teens to wear their seatbelts and drive safely.

The challenge: The third annual challenge pitted 10 high schools against each other, whereas 16 schools participated last year.

"We think weather had a lot to do with that," Harper said, as school closings were at their peak at the start of the challenge.

To measure seatbelt usage, officials conducted unannounced seatbelt surveys in February and April while students arrived at or departed from school.

Three schools - Kennard-Dale, South Western and Fairfield Area high schools - tied at 94 percent, so a tie-breaking survey was conducted last Thursday.

Kennard-Dale won the overall challenge with a 95 percent usage rate, followed by South Western with 93 percent and Fairfield of Adams County with 89 percent.

And West York Area High School had the largest increase in usage for the second year in a row, rising from 59 to 85 percent over the course of the challenge.

The schools each earned $500 grants from State Farm Insurance, and they will each have a free photo booth during events in the spring. Kennard-Dale will use it during its senior lock-in on May 16; West York will use it for prom on May 23.

Because they were part of the tie, South Western and Fairfield received $250 mini-grants from State Farm.

Increasing safety: Seatbelt use increased in nine out of the 10 schools, "which is what it's all about," Harper said.

Every student driver should wear a seatbelt, said Kennard-Dale senior Dan Hall.

"I practice safe driving every day," said Hall, who will also participate in the 23rd annual York and Adams County Safe Driving Competition for Youth on Tuesday.

Kennard-Dale's assistant principal Zane Fake said the school used announcements and put a sign outside to remind students to wear their seatbelts.

"All it took was a simple buckle-up message, and we ended up winning," he said.

Fake also gave credit to teacher Shawn Feltenberger, who monitored the parking lot in every type of weather to make sure kids left the school safely.

"We more we can help them, the better off they'll be," he said.

And West York wants to reinforce its seatbelt message all year long, said principal Janet May. To only have 59 percent of her students wearing seatbelts is scary, she said.

"We would like to get the highest usage next year ... We want the highest from the beginning," May said.

- Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.