Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Safe driving will win a lucky student new wheels

by Chris Schultz

October 27, 2011

DELAVAN — Safe driving habits have a lot of benefits.

Those benefits include longer life, lower insurance costs, and, for students in seven Walworth County area high schools, a chance to win a free car this spring, with license, taxes and registration all paid for.

The high schools and their students are participating in Operation Click, a program that starts with students buckling up when they drive to and from school.

The seven area schools participating in Operation Click are:

- Badger High School.

- Delavan-Darien

- Big Foot

- Elkhorn Area

- Whitewater

- East Troy

- Catholic Central, Burlington, in Racing County, but where a number of Walworth County students attend.

Students who practice safe driving all of the time increase their odds for winning the car, which is being donated by Kunes Country Auto Group in Delavan.

Operation Click started in Crystal Lake, Ill.’s three high schools in 1998. This is the first year for the program in Wisconsin.

The program is focused on reducing teen fatalities and injuries from motor vehicle crashes by developing safe driving habits through education and positive reinforcement .

Operation Click has helped increase seatbelt use among students in the schools that are a part of the program, said Sean McGrath, a Crystal Lake police officer and program founder.

In Crystal Lake, seatbelt use by teen drivers increased from 65 percent to 95 percent, McGrath said.

But the program goes beyond just buckling up. Students sign contracts committing them to constantly practice safe driving habits.

Volunteer observers stationed regularly at the entrance and exits of school parking lots will monitor student drivers as they enter or leave school grounds.

At the end of the school year, those schools with 90 percent or more who were counted as using their seatbelts, a student’s contract will be pulled. That student will be eligible to be in the drawing for the car.

Schools where 94 to 95 percent or more of the students are complying with the seatbelt rules, two student contacts will be pulled, and they will be eligible for the car.

Anyone practicing unsafe driving habits, such as not wearing a seatbelt or texting while driving, is disqualified after two offenses.

McGrath said the program started giving away cars in 2000. So far, 26 have been given away through the Operation Click organizations in Illinois, he said.

McGrath said when the program was started, it was focused on seatbelt compliance among teenagers.

It didn’t take long for those involved in Operation Click to realize that it would have to focus on all of the elements that make for a safe driver, McGrath said.

Since then, the contracts students sign have become comprehensive, now including behavior in the school as well as skills on the road, he said.

And technology has amended the program’s goals a bit, too.

“When we started the program, if someone had said, ‘you know, texting and driving will be worse than drinking and driving,’ we wouldn’t have known what they were talking about,” McGrath said.

Local connections brought the program north of the border, McGrath said.

Kunes Auto Group has a dealership in Antioch, Ill., where schools participate in Operation Click.

McGrath said he heard of owner Gregg Kunes’ involvement in the community and approached him with the program.

“You’re going to find some car dealers are focused on the business only, and then you’ll find some who focus on the business and the community,” McGrath said.

Kunes is in that latter group, he said.

What car will be given away this year in Walworth County isn’t known at this point, said Alex Justus, Kunes sales consultant and liaison with the Operation Click.

Justus said it would impossible for Kunes to pull one car aside and hold it for six months.

The winning student will receive a “very clean” preowned car, Justus said.

In addition to the winner receiving the car at no cost, the first oil change and every fifth oil change after that will be free through the Kunes dealership, Justus said.

The dealership is also offering unlimited free car washes and vacuums, he said.

Meghan Mahar, a child safety technician with the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services, said McGrath, who is also a child safety technician, was one of Maher’s instructors 10 years ago. She was also instrumental in getting the program into Wisconsin.

“I was able to gather together some high schools who were interested in the program,” Maher said. “We’re really excited about it.”

Walworth County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Nelson is coordinating the program through the Sheriff’s Office.

The Wisconsin AAA Motor Club is also involved, giving $2,000 to each school. That $2,000 can be used to buy T-shirts, candy, posters, anything to promote the program, Maher said.

Mahar said other Wisconsin school districts may be watching how the program works in Walworth County.

“We could wind up being a model for the state,” Mahar said.

Mahar said the program is student driven.

Although all are part of the same Operation Click program, each of the seven schools will handle the program in their own way, Mahar said.

In some cases the organizing group is the student council, or a local Students Against Destructive Decisions club, or the local parent-teachers group. Each school must have a student committee to direct the program.

The committees are responsible for getting contracts signed and to organize events in the school to promote safe driving, and rewarding students for safe driving, Mahar said.

And there is a school staff person who works as liaison with the school administration.

Some schools have already had their Operation Click kick-off programs, some of them tying them to their homecoming celebrations. Others are just getting started.

All schools that plan to take part must have their signed student contracts submitted to Operation Click by Nov. 15, Mahar said.

“It’s all about keeping kids safe,” Mahar said.