A call for caution among young drivers

October 21, 2018 GMT

Sitting in the cab of an 18-wheel semi, Amelia Schafer couldn’t see the car to her left. The Herscher driver’s education student looked to the right passenger mirror and couldn’t see the oncoming motorcycle.

“I am already terrified of semis,” said Schafer, who took her final driver’s test a day later. “This freaks me out a little more. They can’t see me from here. I now know to be more careful and aware of my surroundings.”

That was Hoekstra Transportation’s goal on Tuesday as it hosted about 400 driver’s education students from seven area schools for a Teens, Trucks & Traffic event at Innovel in Manteno.

The event featured four stations that taught teens the deadly consequences of distracted driving, how to interact with police during traffic stops, what truck drivers can see and laws of the road.

“I think this is something that will stick with students because it shows them the graphic nature of accidents,” Hoekstra owner Steve Hoekstra said. “They get to have a hands-on experience that shows them the road from multiple perspectives, including truck drivers and police officers.”

Last year, the National Safety Council estimated there were about 40,100 traffic-related deaths. That 1 percent decline comes after 40,327 traffic-related deaths in 2016.

The NSC also estimated 4.57 million people received medical treatment in 2017 because of injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes. It estimated those injuries and treatments cost society $413.8 billion.

Traffic-related deaths have been on the decline in Kankakee County throughout the past three years with 23 in 2016, 18 in 2017 and 11 so far this year. However, Iroquois County has seen a hike with nine this year compared to six in 2017.

Nonetheless, local driver’s education students were dialed in during Tuesday’s event. They saw videos of surgical procedures performed on people involved in crashes. They saw unbuckled dummies get tossed around in a rollover simulator. They didn’t see the vehicles coming up on them from inside the semi.

“It reassures you that driving is not a game and that it needs to be taken seriously,” said Emily Greene, a driver’s education student at St. Anne Community High School. “Your life and other people’s lives are at risk when you’re not paying attention. I think it’s really good to know as a young driver that what you’re doing is serious.”

The hands-on experience was eye-opening for students.

“This is more realistic,” said Daniel Wauchote, a driver’s education student at St. Anne Community High School. “You have real-life scenarios and real things you know can happen to you, where as in the classroom, you are listening to a teacher talk and trying to visualize what can happen. Here, we’re listening to the professionals and seeing it firsthand.”

The event also provided a humanizing element for police officers, who educated students on how to conduct themselves during traffic stops.

“A lot of kids grow up to trust police, but when they do something wrong, their senses are going to be heightened. Their adrenaline is going to be running,” Manteno patrolman Chris Reynolds said. “For us, this is a chance to let them know we are people, too. We don’t want to get them in trouble. We don’t want to put them in handcuffs. We want to educate them and establish mutual respect.”

Hoekstra hopes to host the event again.

“We would like to do this for every kid in driver’s ed,” he said. “It helps them see our perspective on the road, and I believe they will think about what they saw here when they are on the road.”