Austin youth learn the dangers of unsafe driving

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Several West Side teens got some valuable tips last week on safe driving.

The goal of the four-hour workshop – held at John Marshall Metropolitan High School and sponsored by the 11th District Community Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), Illinois State Police and AAA – was to teach the teens about avoiding distractions, like loud music and cell phones, as well as alcohol and drugs.

It also gave the 10 teens who participated an opportunity to connect with police officers, said Arnethia Ellis, a community connector at Marshall who organized the workshop held July 27.

“I think a lot of students don’t have a positive outlook on the police here in Austin,” said Ellis. “This workshop is an opportunity to strengthen that partnership as well as receive good information about safe driving practices.”

The presenters offered sobering facts.

“Children under the age of 21 dying due to fatal car crashes are on the rise,” said Michelle Kistulinec, an Illinois State Police trooper. “We want them to be educated on how to prevent unsafe habits while driving and being a passenger in a motor vehicle.”

The Illinois State Police and AAA offered interactive activities for the teens that simulated drunk and distracted driving. They brought out golf carts, provided DUI goggles to the teens and set up an obstacle course outside for the teens to navigate.

“I thought that driving around the cones would be easy with the DUI goggles,” said Angel Powell, 17.  “I ended up crashing most of the cones, and I hit the curb. I learned that even when you think you can drive drunk, it could be deadly for you and others, too.”

Powell, a senior at Henry Ford Academy: Power House High and a licensed driver, said although she doesn’t own a car, she often is the designated driver for her older family members to prevent them from drinking and driving.

“Being the designated driver makes me feel like a babysitter sometimes,” she said. “But I’m fortunate to help save lives.”

Sgt. Davina Ward of the 11th District said the young people who attended the workshop were educated on the do’s and don’ts, but it’s up to them to act responsibly when faced with these situations.

“Teens should feel that there are options,” Ward said. “I see so many young people nowadays who drive while blasting loud music and texting on cell phones. They need to realize that these behaviors are unsafe and can lead to potential harm, even death.”

Stephon Carter, 16, said although he’s not a licensed driver, “I got a head start on safe driving as a teenager.”

Carter, also a student at Power House High, said he will be taking his drivers’ education class this fall. “I learned how to be a responsible driver before I even got my driver’s license.”

At the end of the workshop, the teens were given hands-free Bluetooth devices for their cell phones.

“We want teens to realize that there are ways to stay safe behind the wheel,” said Sgt. Ward, who said there are plans to organize a similar workshop during prom season when many teens are expected to drive.

Here are some tips to help teens drive safely:

  • Never drive a vehicle under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
  • Turn off your cell phone when driving. Texting and talking on the phone can easily distract drivers.
  • Have a designated driver who will agree not to drink if you and your friends go out. This person should keep the car keys and be prepared to get everyone home safely.
  • If you are the assigned designated driver, be sure that you and all passengers who enter the vehicle buckle their seat belts.
  • Do not drive with extremely loud music. This can be a distraction while driving.

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