Most of you are probably familiar with the yellow “LiveStrong” wristbands. Developed and distributed by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the proceeds support cancer prevention research and help people live with cancer. Because of my own trials and tribulations with cancer, I purchased 100 wristbands last year and distributed them to my university students. Most already knew of my bout with prostate cancer.

Wearing the LiveStrong wristband reminds me of the life I took for granted before cancer, and of the need to continue with the kind of lifestyle that increases my chances of staying “cancer-free.”

When my wristband broke, I was quite disappointed. Every bike store I called was “out-of-stock.” I now wear one given to me by a friend and professional colleague. He said he could no longer wear his, which I had given him earlier, because he started smoking cigarettes again after a nine-year hiatus. It was inconsistent for him to wear the yellow wristband while continuing this unhealthy behavior.

To me, this shows the great impact any kind of safety memento can have — baseball cap, key chain, coffee mug, umbrella, or ink pen. Most important is the safety story behind the memento — and what the story personally means to the person receiving and displaying it. The story and its personal relevance enable a safety memento to shape behavior and attitudes.

Consider my friend and colleague. His smoking behavior was at odds with the LifeStrong message. That caused tension in his mind, which he put to rest by choosing to stop wearing the wristband.

“Trinket” cheapens the meaning

What kind of influence do you want your so-called safety trinkets to have? Think about the meaning and the emotions you want to link to the trinket.

And I suggest using a word other than “trinket” to boost its impact. “Trinket” sounds cheap and cheesy, doesn’t it? A better label is “safety memento,” reflecting the special memory and mission linked to a safety keepsake.

Here’s another example of making a safety memento personal and influential by linking it to an emotion-laden memory — and a targeted safe behavior. My colleague who returned the yellow wristband now wears a maroon one, as do I (see photo). These maroon wristbands are embossed with the message, “Buckle Up for Someone You Love – A.R.K.” The initials ARK represent the name of a university student, Ashley Ryan Krueger, who was killed in an automobile crash because she was unbuckled.

University students, faculty, and staff purchased the maroon wristbands at a well-attended memorial service for Ashley. We sold 1,000 wristbands, and several students have expressed interest in distributing these wristbands at their local high schools.

Wearing these wristbands may be a fashion statement, since maroon is one of our university colors. But I’m confident the personal story and emotions linked to this wristband, as well as the relevant buckle-up message, activates safety-belt use and perhaps other safe-driving behaviors. Indeed, it would be inconsistent and hypocritical to wear the wristband and not buckle up.

A bigger vision

Recently, I discussed our Buckle-Up wristbands in a series of people-based safety presentations at a Monsanto plant in Soda Spring, Idaho. At the end of one of these talks, an audience member said my buckle-up story had personal meaning to her. On October 10, 2004, she lost her grandson in a vehicle crash, and he likely would have been uninjured if he had been buckled up. The Soda Springs community maintains a memorial tree to remember Derek Smith.

Derek graduated from Soda Springs High School, and had just begun welding classes at Idaho State University VoTech. His grandmother and I envisioned a community-wide distribution of black (one of the high school’s colors) wristbands with an embossed message: “Buckle-Up — Do it for Derek.”

I expect the Monsanto plant to support the production and distribution of this safety memento. Actually, I envision a similar safety wristband for every high school and university in the country that has experienced a personal loss from a vehicle crash and wants to help prevent future tragedies.

Question: What about a green wristband for safety? With significant interest in this idea, my SPS partners and I would help develop an action plan. For more info: Contact the Center for Applied Behavior Systems, Virginia Tech at (540) 231-8145.