More than 100 Tazewell County teens went through the Ford Driving Skills for Life training Thursday at the Army National Guard Base in Peoria.
Peoria Public Radio's Tanya Koonce reports, it was the 10th anniversary of the initiative in Tazewell County after 15 teens were killed in car accidents in 15 months.
Jim Graham is the Global Manager of Ford Driving Skills for Life. He was in Tazewell County when the program was introduced and returned Thursday.
He says inexperience is still involved in 60 percent of all vehicle fatalities and the next biggest culprit is distracted and impaired driving. “Distracted driving in-particular is a lot more prevalent than it was 10 years ago when we started this program. Everybody sees it going down the road. Whether it’s legal or not legal people are doing it. So teens are doing it too.” Graham says that makes the hands-on driving skills experience all the more valuable to new drivers.
The loss of the 15 teens in Tazewell County happened between March 2005 and July 2006. Sheriff Bob Huston says out of the tremendous grief the community felt people pulled together. The Tazewell Teen Initiative was formed and the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Ford Motor Company Fund’s Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) program and The Allstate Foundation pulled together to create the Operation Teen Safe Driving Program. It was piloted in the seven Tazewell County High Schools.
There were no teen driving fatalities in Tazewell County the first five years of the Ford Driving Skills for Life and Operation Teen Safe Driving programs, but there have been some in the last five. Ford’s Jim Graham says, “it doesn’t make the news as much when it’s one at a time like that. So that why it’s really important that even though we’ve done things in the last ten years that we really stay focused on what we’re doing so we can get that number down to zero.”
The Ford Driving Skills for Life and Operation Teen Safe Driving initiatives expanded statewide a year later in 2008. That was the same time the state’s graduated driver’s license law was enacted. It’s considered model legislation and has been adopted by other states.
Teens still account for the largest percentage of motor vehicle fatalities in the state and nation. But Illinois Department of Transportation Data shows teen driving fatalities have been reduced by 50 percent since 2007.