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updated: 4/15/2014 5:40 PM

Safe driving pays off for pair of high school seniors

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  • Video: Operation Click

  • Elk Grove High School senior Yanni Gaglos celebrates after his key started the 2012 Fiat 500C he won Tuesday through the Operation Click program during a ceremony at Concorde Banquets in Kildeer. Students who took a pledge to wear their seat belts, drive sober and not text or talk on the phone while driving had a chance to win a car during the event.

       Elk Grove High School senior Yanni Gaglos celebrates after his key started the 2012 Fiat 500C he won Tuesday through the Operation Click program during a ceremony at Concorde Banquets in Kildeer. Students who took a pledge to wear their seat belts, drive sober and not text or talk on the phone while driving had a chance to win a car during the event.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake North High School senior Ryan Carolan is surprised after his key started a 2007 Ford Focus Tuesday through the Operation Click program during a ceremony at Concorde Banquets in Kildeer. Students who took a pledge to wear their seat belts, drive sober and not text or talk on the phone while driving had a chance to win a car during the event.

       Grayslake North High School senior Ryan Carolan is surprised after his key started a 2007 Ford Focus Tuesday through the Operation Click program during a ceremony at Concorde Banquets in Kildeer. Students who took a pledge to wear their seat belts, drive sober and not text or talk on the phone while driving had a chance to win a car during the event.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

Elk Grove High School senior Yanni Gaglos had a good feeling Tuesday as he walked into Concorde Banquets in Kildeer.

Not only had the Des Plaines resident and the more than 200 fellow students on hand followed through on a yearlong pledge not to text or drink while driving, but now he had a chance to win the ultimate prize: a car.

Sure enough, Gaglos was one of two students to draw the winning keys. Gaglos won a sporty 2012 Fiat, donated by Black Diamond Plumbing and Mechanical of Crystal Lake, while Ryan Carolan of Grayslake North High School won a 2007 Ford Focus, donated by Kunes Country State Line Superstore of Antioch.

Gaglos described it as "awesome," adding that now he wouldn't have to drive his parents' car.

"If kids are in my car, I make them wear seat belts," he said. "That much I can control."

In all, nearly 300 people attended the luncheon hosted by Operation Click, a safe driving program for teens, whose mission is to reduce injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle crashes.

Teens came from the Barrington/Hoffman Estates chapter -- which includes Barrington, Conant, Elk Grove, Fremd, Hoffman Estates, Lake Zurich, Palatine and Schaumburg high schools -- as well as those from the Libertyville chapter -- Grayslake Central, Grayslake North, Libertyville, Mundelein, Vernon Hills, Wauconda and Zion-Benton high schools.

Sean McGrath, a Crystal Lake police officer, started the program 15 years ago with three high schools. Today, there are 47 participating in Northwest Cook, Lake, Kane, McHenry and Walworth (Wis.) counties.

"We know the program is working because we're not seeing any fatalities in the high schools we're working with," McGrath said. "But we're also talking to students who have gone on to college, and they tell us they're still talking about the program.

"That's the key," McGrath added, "that we start creating safe driving habits that last for life."

In order to qualify for the chance to win the car, students had to sign contracts saying they would wear their seat belts, not drink and drive, and not drive distractedly by texting or talking on their phones.

School officials audited their students by observing them in school parking lots four times during the school year to make sure they were following through. Each school held drawings among students who had signed contracts to determine who would have a chance to win the car.

Palatine High School junior Kristopher Ketelsen was named student of the year for his role as president of the Operation Click at his high school. They have posted statistics, as well as a display for prom, with a banner reading: "We wear our seat belts to prom. Do you?"

At Mundelein High School, approximately 300 students signed pledges not to text or drink while driving, as well as wear their seat belts.

"I think a lot of them do it anyway, so they figured why not," said senior Bryanna Howard of Mundelein. "But others wanted to make a statement."

Elk Grove Village police Officer Mike Carlson works as a school resource officer at Elk Grove High School, where he moderates the Operation Click efforts and audits student contracts.

"It's hard, because this is a generation of texters," Carlson said. "I know they are trying not to text, but they get texts all day long."

Since working with Operation Click, he says, he has seen seat belt compliance go up to 98 percent, and he thinks the number of teens texting while driving will decrease over time as well.

"We're trying to convince them to stop and let them know that it's against the law," Carlson added.

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