Fewer teens are losing their lives on Illinois roadways, Secretary of State Jesse White said Thursday as he announced winners of a safe-driving program inspired by the deaths of Tazewell County teens a few years ago.

Fewer teens are losing their lives on Illinois roadways, Secretary of State Jesse White said Thursday as he announced winners of a safe-driving program inspired by the deaths of Tazewell County teens a few years ago.


"It’s a known fact that these young drivers, from the ages of 15 to 20, lose their lives more often than anyone else," White said at a State Capitol news conference. "So it’s important for us to do all we can to make sure that we help these young people to be able to navigate in a proper manner from point A to point B."


Through the Operation Teen Safe Driving program, which was announced last November, high school students educate their peers about driving safely.


Twenty-two individuals ages 16 to 19 died in Illinois traffic crashes from Jan. 1 to April 15 this year, officials said. That compares with 57 deaths in the 16-to-19 age group during the same period in 2007.


"Thirty-five fewer teens died during the period of this program," said Mike Stout, director of division of traffic safety for the Illinois Department of Transportation. "Now, there’s no way for us to say it was only because of that. But when the number is that significant, I believe anybody will look to this program and say … it worked."


"Keep in mind our goal is to save lives," Stout added. "Teen crashes cut short or forever change lives in an instant."


The Operation Teen Safe Driving program in Illinois is an outgrowth of an initiative implemented in Tazewell County after a series of traffic-related deaths involving teens.


"Prior to June 2006, Tazewell County had 15 driving deaths in as many months," said Walter Skube, a Springfield-based salesman for Ford Motor Co. "Local leaders, state leaders, Ford Motor Co. and others all came together to find a solution. The result was a ‘driving skills for life’ event, an initiative that is now being replicated throughout the country."


Also attending the news conference were about 18 students from Midwest Central High School in Manito, one of the winners of the safe-driving program.


Ashten Coen, a 17-year-old junior at Midwest Central, said that students take the program seriously, in part because they have known young people who died in traffic crashes.


"It hit us very hard. It’s very emotional and very personal," she said.


Students from the top four Operation Teen Safe Driving high schools in each of seven regions will be invited to Ford’s "behind the wheel" training clinic, Skube said. That program focuses on a variety of driving skills, such as hazard recognition and skid control.


The Allstate Foundation is giving money to 104 schools so they can continue their Operation Teen Safe Driving programs. It also is providing $5,000 for an after-prom party for the top Operation Teen Safe Driving school in each of the seven regions.


Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com.


After 15 teens were killed in traffic accidents in a span of 15 months in Tazewell County by mid-2006, officials organized the Operation Teen Safe Driving program. Teens from the top four Operation teen Safe Driving high schools in the state’s seven regions are invited to Ford Motor Co.’s "behind the wheel" driving clinic. Here are the winning schools in central Illinois:


Region 5


Deer Creek-Mackinaw High School, first place


Morton High School, second place


LeRoy High School, third place


Fieldcrest High School in Minonk, fourth place


Region 6


Midwest Central High School in Manito, first place


Quincy Senior High School, second place


Gillespie High School, third place


Pleasant Plains High School, fourth place