Tazewell teens to learn safe driving skills


Tazewell County’s teenagers will learn this month what it’s like to drive intoxicated, on ice and while using a cellphone, all in a safe setting.


They’ll be told that 15 of their kind lost their lives in a tragic spate of vehicle accidents over 15 months that ended 12 years ago this July, but only six have died on the county’s roads since then.


That’s an achievement due in part to Tazewell teens’ own efforts through Operation Teen Safe Driving (OTSD), a program that’s grown statewide since it began in Tazewell 10 years ago, county Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jeff Lower said Friday.


“It became a pilot program” funded with grants to county high schools from Ford Motor Co. through its Driving Skills for Life Program, Lower said. The program began with efforts from the Tazewell Teen Initiative, created in response to the 15 teen deaths.


This year, about 100 Illinois schools received $2,000 grants to finance safe driving programs born “from students’ creativity to boost safety” and generate awareness of the issue in their communities, he said.


By 2015, a decade after Tazewell’s rash of teen driving deaths began, the number statewide had been cut by 55 percent, Lower said.


To recognize and reward the impact of OTSD in the county where it started, Ford will bring its Driving Skills for Life one-day education program on May 18 to the Illinois Air National Guard Base in Bartonville.


About 120 students, all with driver’s licenses or permits, will attend the seminar-on-wheels event from schools in Pekin, East Peoria, Tremont, Dee-Mack and Delavan, Lower said.


“Every student will get behind the wheel,” he said, to take part in controlled-course sessions focusing on the hazards of impaired and distracted driving and skills covered only generally in typical school driver’s education courses.


“My daughter’s done it twice; she said it really helped her,” Lower said.


The event will also will include classroom sessions, highlighting skills such as how to drive around trucks on highways and avoid damage when they turn at intersections.
Lower said it will include a news conference with comments from Sheriff Robert Huston and officials from Ford and the Illinois Department of Transportation. A parent of one of the 15 teens killed last decade also will speak, he said.


The free event also is open to teens outside of the five participating high schools. Lower said those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent. Those interested may call county Deputy John Shallenberger at 478-5652.

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