Tazewell County Teens Learn to Drive for Life

May 19, 2017

Newly licensed, Tazewell County High School Students participated in the driving course with special goggles that imitate impaired driving.
Credit Tanya Koonce / Peoria Public Radio

  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.  

Tazewell County High School students, new drivers, try the heel-toe, straight-line steps required in a field sobriety test. But they are wearing fatal vision goggles representing the way they would see and feel at a blood alcohol level of .17, about double the legal limit for those 21 .
Credit Tanya Koonce / Peoria Public Radio

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.”  

Michelle Watson walks through the experience of the death of her son Jeremy. He was killed with two other 18-year-old young men in a single car crash June 18, 2006. It was one of the accidents that took lives of 15 teens in 15 months in Tazewell County between 2005 and 2006. Michelle Watson speaks to school groups and in specially arranged circumstances.
Credit Tanya Koonce / Peoria Public Radio

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.