Seat belts save lives. They can also get you prizes.

Now in its second year, the York/Adams High School Seat Belt Challenge will monitor seat belt use by students at about a dozen or more high schools.

The enticing twist?

There are prizes involved for schools with the best usage.

The York Area Highway Safety Council, with a sponsorship by State Farm Insurance, hopes to get students to buckle up while dangling the prize of a free photo booth for use at the school's prom or post-graduation event for the top winner.

Mini-grants of $500 for schools to do traffic safety programs are also up for grabs.

The list of participating schools won't be announced until Wednesday, but

council director Wayne Harper said there's already strong interest, with Adams County schools asking to join in this year.

The impetus: Car accidents are the No. 1 cause of death for teens, according to Laura Fagan, traffic safety specialist with the Center for Traffic Safety.

In Pennsylvania, every occupant between the ages of 8 and 18 has to wear a seat belt. And a seat belt violation is now a primary offense for drivers 18 and under, so police can pull over a vehicle to issue a citation without the driver first committing another violation. Last year, Spring Grove Area High School took top honors with the highest overall seat belt usage rate, while the York County School of Technology had the biggest percentage increase in usage.

To get a baseline, the council had volunteers show up unannounced at 25 area high schools last month to monitor seat belt usage of students coming to and from school.

Then the results were sent to schools to see if they want to participate and try to raise the numbers. Participating schools are then monitored again at a later date, with winners announced in May.

The results: Harper said seat belt usage in the baseline survey ranged from 48 percent to 93 percent this year.

"We're hoping to reinforce the seat belt message. We want to try to encourage the kids to have a lifelong, life-saving habit," Harper said.

Rosemary Cugliari, Spring Grove principal, said she's pleased with how seriously her students take seat belt use.

Even in fender benders students have been involved in, seat belt use made a difference, she said.

"Thank goodness they were wearing their belt, or it could have ended much differently," Cugliari said.

Schools take different tactics to encourage usage, Harper said, such as having people meet students driving into the school.

Cugliari said the best tactic has been getting students to encourage each other.

"They listen to them more than they listen to any adults," she said.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com