Teen driving program promotes safe habits

April 16, 2013 3:50:43 AM PDT
The parking lots at U.S. Cellular Field will be filled with screeching tires, music blasting from cars and texting while driving. It's all part of the Ford Driving Skills for Life Program that takes drivers ed one step further.

"It's important because the number 1 killer of teens in the U.S. is vehicle crashes," said program Manager Jim Graham. "In the state of Illinois this is our most successful program. Over seven years, there's been a 53-percent reduction in teen deaths."

In two days, hundreds of high school students will go through four, hands-on driving clinics with professional drivers. Among them, vehicle handling and skid control and hazard recognition. The biggest challenge for today's young drivers: distraction.

"Cell phones. They want to text. They want to talk, instant gratification. Back in our day, we had to wait until we got to the house before we made that phone call. Right now, they have it at their fingertips," said Marianne Hankins, IDOT Operation Teen Safe Driving manager.

The distracted driver course has a lot more than a cell phone.

"It was absolutely insane! No way should you be able to do that on the road!" said Dalton Johnson, a high school driver who was asked to text the Gettysburg Address while driving as part of the program.

Equally important, simulating drunk or impaired driving. The students use goggles that impair your vision similar to a blood alcohol level of .20, which is well above the legal limit of .08.

"It looks real easy until you put the goggles on. It's like you have five extra eyes, and you're all trying to see at the same time and everything is a blur!" student driver Fiona Keigher.

It's all in the name of safety. The program is actually a reward for a statewide high school safe driving program based on peer-to-peer campaigns. IDOT sends notices out at the beginning of each school year for high schools to apply.