CRYSTAL LAKE – A Harvard High School senior, a Cary-Grove High School junior and a Marengo Community High School junior each became the proud owner of a new vehicle Friday.
And none will pay a dime toward the car, tax or license.
Jacqueline Jimenez, Susan Taddy and Keegen Zickuhr were the lucky students whose keys turned over the ignitions at the culmination of the Operation Click banquet at D’Andrea Banquets in Crystal Lake.
Perhaps most excited, though, was Taddy’s mom, who kept repeating “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!” when her daughter’s turn at the wheel started the 2010 red Chevrolet Aveo.
“It’s pretty cool,” 17-year-old Susan Taddy said. “I was the last person [to turn a key], so I was hoping.”
Zickuhr held the second-to-last key when he climbed into the 2008 PT Cruiser he won Friday.
“I think it’s an amazing thing, just to get kids to drive more safely,” Zickuhr said of the Operation Click program.
“I’m very nervous and excited,” Zickuhr added.
Jimenez’ eyes grew large when her attempt started her black 2007 Pontiac G6.
“I was like ‘Oh, wow,’ ” she said. “I think it’s a great program.”
About 300 people attended the banquet Friday. Operation Click President Sean McGrath, a Crystal Lake patrolman, said the peer-run program offers an extra incentive to help students adopt safe driving habits – including not just buckling up, but also driving sober and not texting and driving.
The program began in 1998 with just three Crystal Lake high schools.
It now involves students in 39 high schools in northern Illinois and Wisconsin.
Cars given away Friday were donated by Courtesy Buick GMC of Crystal Lake, Kunes Country Ford of Antioch and by a financial contribution from the Lake in the Hills Rotary Club, Intren of Union and Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital of Barrington, McGrath said.
Students at participating schools sign safe driving contracts, and seat-belt compliance surveys are performed quarterly. From each qualifying school, one to four students are selected to draw a key during the banquet.
A good deal of emphasis during the banquet was placed on the dangers of texting and driving, a practice that makes a person 23 more times likely to be involved in a crash.
McGrath referred to 2011 statistics that showed that on any given weekday, about half a million people were talking on their cellphones while driving, and 1.2 million were “engaged with their mobile device in some way,” whether it be texting, checking their calendars or using GPS navigation.
“So how safe are we?” McGrath asked.
He commended participating students, faculty and parents, and said that the program has led to seat-belt compliance among participating schools averaging between 94 percent and 96.25 percent, whereas the state average is 93.6 percent.
Some individual schools saw compliance rate increases of as much as 18 percent between pre-program surveys and surveys conducted after the school and its students began promoting Operation Click, McGrath said.