It's no secret that teens aren't the most experienced drivers.
But for students at a growing number of Northwest suburban high schools, there's plenty of motivation to get better.
For Marian Central junior Alysa Luczak and Crystal Lake Central junior Mikayla Tuszynski, staying on track with Operation Click, and the pledges they signed to maintain safe driving habits, paid off.
"I thought I broke (the key) for a minute, I couldn't believe it was real," Alysa said as she sat in the driver's seat admiring the interior of her yellow 2006 Chevy Cobalt. Mikayla's key was the winner for a blue 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser.
The annual car giveaway through Operation Click began in 1998 with three participating high schools in Crystal Lake, and the program is now in 30 high schools in two states, including schools from all over McHenry, Lake and Cook counties in Illinois and Walworth County in Wisconsin. The Crystal Lake event started as a single car giveaway, but thanks to increased participation and sponsorship, two lucky teenagers now drive away with cars free and clear. Operation Click pays off the taxes and fees so students and their families aren't burdened with unanticipated costs. The final banquet and car giveaway of 2012 will take place May 4 in Hoffman Estates for students in the Hoffman Estates and Barrington chapters of the program.
Teen drivers at the schools sign a pledge to be safe drivers, use their seat belts, and stay free of any traffic violations or alcohol issues. Schools that reach 90 to 94 percent during four random surveys throughout the year are eligible to have one student in the car drawing. Schools reaching 95 percent or higher get two students entered.
Alysa was in the first of two groups of students to try for car number one, and was the second to put a key in the ignition, leaving six others disappointed in her wake.
Car number two took a bit longer.
"I decided not to get my hopes up because I didn't think I was going to win," Mikayla said after watching six other students try their keys unsuccessfully. She was seventh in a line of eight students, with the excitement building after each student climbed back out of the blue 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser. "I was really shocked," she said.
Crystal Lake police officer and Operation Click President Sean McGrath says the program has proved to be a very effective tool in changing the driving habits of teens.
"The teenage mindset comes into play, because with the laws that are in effect teens say, 'Don't tell me why to do it, tell me what's in it for me.'" McGrath said. "With an incentive-based program, to try and change the behavior while they're still new drivers, that helps."
Although the growing program means more work for McGrath and other members of the board of directors, McGrath says it's worth it.
"We love it, we know it works, we see the results," he said "and everyone on the board gets to have a little bit of ownership to say, hey, we're making a difference."