PAVE aims to keep high school students safe while driving

Jenifer Weber, a senior at Fremd High School, joins her classmates every Thursday morning in the school parking lot, where they start their day giving candy to random student drivers who are wearing their seat belts.

“It works,” Weber says. “Students really love it.”

Weber is an active member of the school's PAVE Club, or Positive Actions for Vikings Everyday, who are driving participation, so to speak, in Operation Click. At stake is the possibility of winning a new car, donated by Marquardt of Barrington.

“We really believe in this,” she says, “that wearing seat belts and not texting or using a cell phone in the car can save lives.

“We're actively promoting it through all of our events,” Weber adds, “and word is getting out. Students are hearing about it from their friends and peers, and that's making a difference.”

Her classmate, senior Megan Gray of Palatine, says PAVE Club members have increased their emphasis this year on reminding students about the dangers of texting while driving.

At a recent football game, their club shirts had Oprah's no phone zone on the back, while a future event is planned during their “safe driving week” when they set up a driving simulator to let students see the effects of driving while texting.

“We hope it serves as reinforcement,” Gray says, “that maybe they'll think twice the next time.”

This is the third year that Fremd students are participating in Operation Click. Other local high schools participating include: Barrington, Conant, Elk Grove, Hoffman Estates and Lake Zurich high schools.

In all, 21 high schools in Cook, Lake and portions of Kane and McHenry counties are participating in the program this year.

Started in 1998 by Crystal Lake Police officer Sean McGrath, Operation Click asks students to sign a contract at the beginning of school. In it, they pledge to wear their seat belts, not drink and drive, not ride in a car with a driver who has consumed alcohol, and to not be convicted of any traffic-related violation.

The more students adhere to their contracts, the better their chances of having a shot at winning a car. Schools with more than 95 percent compliance get to send two students to the prize drawing in April, while schools with 90 percent or better can send one.

Last year, one student from Cary-Grove, Marian Central Catholic in Woodstock, Johnsburg, Lake Zurich and Wauconda high schools each won new cars at the awards ceremony held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

PAVE Club members have worked the last two home football games, offering prizes and incentives to students who would sign contracts. Their persistence has been paying off, Weber says. She estimates they have nearly 1,000 students on board.

“Last year, we came in at 92 percent (compliance) and could only send one person to the drawing,” Weber says. “This year, we're shooting for more than 95 percent.”

Traffic units with local police departments work with school officials to conduct random checks four times during the school year to count the number of cars where teens are wearing their seat belts.

Since the program's inception, seat belt usage by teen drivers in Crystal Lake, where officer McGrath started the program, has risen from 65 percent to 95 percent.

“The key is getting students involved and influencing their peers,” McGrath says. “The more peers are influencing their friends to have good driving habits, the more it works.”

Urged on by Fremd group PAVE, which stand for Positive Actions for Vikings Everyday, students sign pledges for Operation Click and safe driving.