CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was joined by representatives of the Ford Motor Company Fund, Secretary of State Jesse White, and other state officials today in launching a statewide effort designed to reduce teen crashes and fatalities in Illinois. The Operation Teen Safe Driving campaign is the first of its kind in the nation and gets high school students directly involved by engaging them in competition to design community-based driving safety programs targeted at their peers.
“While only seven percent of drivers are teens, they account for 20 percent of car crashes and more than 12 percent of fatalities. This is a tragic statistic that we in Illinois will not accept. We've passed tough laws to improve the safety of teen drivers and today we're launching a groundbreaking new effort to tap the creativity of our kids to drive this message home to teens in every corner of the state,” said Governor Blagojevich.
Operation Teen Safe Driving is a statewide initiative that is modeled on the nationally recognized Ford Driving Skills for Life high school based pilot project implemented last year by Ford, the Governors Highway Safety Association, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), the Illinois State Police and local partners that halted an epidemic of 15 teen fatalities in Tazewell County in 2005 and 2006. It is also designed to build on the momentum from a series of new laws aimed at teen drivers stemming from Secretary of State White’s Teen Driving Task Force that give Illinois some of the most stringent teen driving laws in the nation.
IDOT’s Division of Traffic Safety, Illinois State Police, the Illinois State Board of Education, and the Illinois Liquor Control Commission are among the participants in the partnership with the Ford Motor Company Fund. Also backing the Illinois campaign are national traffic safety groups: the Governors Highway Safety Association, RADD (“the Entertainment Industry’s Voice for Road Safety”), and SADD (originally founded as “Students Against Drunk Driving” and now standing for “Students Against Destructive Decisions”).
The IDOT Division of Traffic Safety is providing $150,000 to help pay for grants to participating schools and for three, three-day “Ride and Drive” safe-driving clinics put on by Ford and taught by professional drivers. Teens from schools that propose the most creative approaches to communicating safe driving messages will be rewarded with participation in the clinics.
"Ford's Driving Skills for Life program is delighted to partner with the State of Illinois in this important teen safety initiative because it improves safety for vehicle drivers and occupants of all ages" said Sue Cischke, senior vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, Ford Motor Company. "This innovative approach could set the standard for our involvement in other states across the country in support of our ongoing commitment to safety."
“The new law that resulted from the recommendation of my Teen Driver Safety Task Force makes Illinois’ teen driver program one of the strongest in the nation, and more importantly, will save lives,” said Secretary of State White. “This statewide program we are announcing today will help draw even more attention to the issue of teen driving and to the new law by utilizing the creativity of teens to develop effective safe driving messages for their peers.”
“Under the leadership of Gov. Blagojevich, Illinois has made remarkable progress in increasing safety belt use and reducing traffic fatalities to the lowest level since 1924,” said IDOT Secretary Milton R. Sees. “But we have continued to see far too many tragic crashes involving teens. By creating competition among schools in Tazewell County, we were able to raise awareness and succeed in halting a string of terrible crashes involving teens. This new statewide initiative will seek to replicate that success on a statewide level.”
“It's always a tragedy when a teen's life is cut short as the result of a fatal crash," said ISP Director Larry G. Trent. "The Illinois State Police is committed to preventing these senseless deaths by working with area teens and community leaders in Operation Teen Safe Driving. Together, we can develop strategies to help save lives and make communities safer.”
One of the leading issues in teen driver safety is underage drinking. The Illinois Liquor Control Commission educates teens and parents through Don't Be Sorry, a public education campaign to reduce underage drinking. The ILCC offers their resources to the students and schools as they develop their local safe-driving programs.
"Mixing teen drinking with teen driving is a recipe for disaster," said Lainie Krozel, Acting Director of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC). "The ILCC has worked on multiple fronts to increase education about the dangers of underage drinking and driving and we offer our services to communities in this statewide effort. I commend Governor Blagojevich for seeing a need to change the way we educate our kids about driving and initiating a program to meet the challenge."
Both nationally and in Illinois, teen drivers make up approximately 7% of the driving population but are involved in roughly 20 percent of traffic crashes and more than 12 percent of traffic fatalities. While Illinois has had strong success in reducing the overall number of fatalities – by 200 a year since 2003 – the number of teen fatalities has remained roughly the same. In Illinois, last year there were 151 fatal crashes that involved young drivers between the ages of 16 and 19.
Under the innovative plan announced today, high schools will compete with each other to devise creative and attention-getting strategies designed to develop and implement community-based programs to reduce fatalities and injuries, due to traffic crashes among young drivers.
High schools that come up with the most creative solutions will be invited to participate in three Ford sponsored “Ride and Drive” safe-driving clinics in Chicago, Springfield, and the Metro East area. These “Ride and Drive” events take three days and feature professional drivers giving young drivers rigorous behind the wheel driving exercises, including: Hazard Recognition/Accident Avoidance, Vehicle Handling/Skid Control and Speed/Space Management.
The effort is modeled on a successful campaign undertaken by Ford and IDOT in Tazewell County after 15 teens were killed in motor vehicle crashes in as many months during 2005 and 2006. During that campaign, all seven Tazewell County high schools participated, and each school received $3,000 in seed money to develop comprehensive teen safety programs. Since this effort was launched in July 2006, there have been no teen traffic deaths in Tazewell County.
The Illinois State Police were recognized last week for their participation in the Tazewell County by the Roadway Safety Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration for excellence and innovation in operations, planning and roadway design to reduce fatalities and injuries on our nation’s highways.
Examples of creative solutions devised by students in Tazewell County included:
- Creation of public service announcements (one school received permission from Pearl Jam to use "The Last Kiss" song in its PSA)
- Design of car magnets with safe driving messages, which were placed on all student cars and many cars in the community
- Remember to Drive Safe During Prom Time stickers, which were placed on all corsage packages at local flower shops, and picture locket key chains that were passed out at prom with a safe driving message attached
- Safe driving messages, which were played at a local movie theater
- “Safety Day” at schools, featuring drunk driving simulation goggles, local hospital rescue helicopters, ambulances, and crash scene re-enactments
- Banners erected at strategic locations, reminding the community to drive safely
- The first all-school assembly in six years, being conducted at one high school
- All schools had newspaper articles written about their campaign and several schools made local television news broadcasts.
Under the new statewide initiative, both public and private high schools around the state will be encouraged to identify the major teen traffic safety problems in their communities, and to propose creative solutions to the identified problem.
Selection of the 105 “winning” programs will be based on each school’s effectiveness in identifying a problem, creativity in proposals to address the problem and the program’s ability to reach teens and the entire community.
Illinois passed a number of new laws aimed at teen drivers in the past year, some of which were recommended by the Jesse White Teen Driving Task Force.
Senate Bill 172, which was signed into law by Gov. Blagojevich in August, gives Illinois some of the toughest laws in the nation for teen drivers. Among the provisions of this law are extending the time for a learners permit from three months to nine months, extends curfews for teen drivers and doubles from six to 12 months the time during which a driver under 18 with a graduated drivers license may carry only one unrelated passenger under the age of 20, excluding siblings.
HB 518 was initiated by Secretary White and authorizes his office to establish a website for parents to check the driving record of their children for free. The legislation aims to give parents an additional tool to ensure that teens are safe and responsible drivers.
For more information about Operation Teen Safe Driving
and applications to participate in the effort, go to www.buckleupillinois.org