senior Kayla Heriaud believes teenagers who just completed their driver’s education and behind-the-wheel training courses should be safe drivers.
However, she knows that’s not the case.
Too often, she said, teens are more interested in how they look – rather than how they act – behind the wheel, and that leads to distracted driving that can have devastating effects.
Heriaud is one of a handful of Plainfield South students who have helped create a teen-driven driving program in which they try to teach their peers about the dangers of distracted driving.
“It’s a subject near and dear to me,” Heriaud, 17, said. “I’ve lost people in car accidents due to reckless driving. I don’t think anyone else should go through that pain.”
Plainfield South is one of 105 high schools in the state that received a $2,000 grant to participate in the Operation Teen Safe Driving program. It's sponsored by the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Ford Motor Co. Fund and the Allstate Foundation with teh aim of reducing teenage driving injuries and fatalities.
In the next few months, teenagers at Plainfield South will teach one another about the responsibilities of driving, which can have a profound effect, Plainfield South Assistant Principal Andi McKinsey said.
Teens often listen more to their peers than to a teacher, she said.
The students will identify traffic safety issues, create a plan to solve the problem and start an awareness program in the school and community.
With the help of the Joliet Police Department, the students will create an educational video focusing on the dangers of speeding, distracted driving, drinking and driving, and the importance of seat belts. It will be shown at school assemblies, sporting events and in the classroom, McKinsey said.
The students must submit their final report to IDOT in March, which will choose the top five student-led curriculums in each of the state’s seven regions. If Plainfield South has designed one of the best programs, it has an opportunity to win up to $2,500 for a post-prom event.
A small leadership team at the school will run the program, but all students at the school will have opportunities to participate, McKinsey said.
With more than 2,500 students at Plainfield South – District 202’s most populated high school – it was an easy decision to apply for the grant to participate in the program, McKinsey said.
“Unfortunately, kids today have a lot of distractions,” she said. “We know students take driver's ed, but peers have more influence. This is an added piece to teach safe driving.”
As part of the first exercise in the Operating Teen Safe Driving program, students and staff members this month had a seat belt safety check for cars exiting Plainfield South’s parking lot.
The group found that 93 percent of drivers, including students, staff members and parents, wore their seat belts. About 85 percent of front seat passengers were wearing seat belts versus 62 percent of back seat riders.
The group will conduct another seat belt safety check in February to see if their educational campaign has resulted in safer driving habits.
The group will also focus on speeding, distracted driving, and drinking and driving.
“Do I have a concern that alcohol and teens are an issue? Absolutely,” McKinsey said. “It’s not just this high school, but high schools across the state.”
Sending a text message while driving is also a big teenage problem, she said.
“Just to text back ‘OK,’ you travel the length of a football field,” she said. “A few little letters are not worth an accident. Nothing is that important to answer or to respond.”
Senior Kevin Casson, 17, said he feels many teens allow themselves to be distracted while driving. They fiddle with the radio, goof around with their friends, talk on their cell phones, even drive with their knees.
“Every driver should be defensive when they are driving,” he said. “Kids are multi-tasking. … A car can be a weapon if it’s used improperly.”
Casson said he hopes students will become better drivers as a result of the program and he's excited to help run it.
“This is definitively a good experience,” he said. “It also makes me a better driver.”