Teaching local teens lessons beyond 'buckle up'

Drive for Tomorrow aims to get students to embrace safe driving culture

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WILMINGTON – Jayme Bufford loaded up an Illinois State Police truck Thursday with two dummies heading for a lethal ride.

Once they were locked in the car with no seat belts on, Bufford, a state trooper, turned on a mechanism that simulated a car crash to an audience of high school students.

The students from area high schools came to the Wilmington E. Dugan Training Center in Wilmington to learn about driving safety. After Bufford flipped the switch, the front half of the truck twirled, and students could see how not buckling up causes motorists to fly out of a vehicle during a collision.

The first dummy to fly out was a small child.

“If you have little kids in the car and they’re not restrained, they’re the first ones to fly out,” Bufford said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation and Operating Engineers Local 150, along with Will and Grundy County high schools, partnered to hold the Drive for Tomorrow program from Tuesday to Thursday. Students from area schools – including Coal City, Minooka, Morris and Peotone – attended during those days.

The program is meant to develop a culture of safe driving among students and demonstrate the consequences of unsafe driving.

Students not only saw the consequences, but experienced them in a controlled environment.

They wore “beer goggles” and tried to drive a golf cart through an obstacle course without hitting anything. They sat on a sloping seat – also known as the “seat belt convincer” – that showed them what a crash feels like even with a seat belt on.

“You can do it here and understand the consequences so when you are out on the road, you know not to do it,” said Patty Ambrose, IDOT outreach liaison.

While students drove with the beer goggles on, Illinois State Trooper Claire Pfotenhauer rode along and told them what the obstacles they faced would be like in the real world.

“When I’m on there, I tell them that cone represents someone … could you live with yourself if you killed someone?” she said.

The lessons had an effect on Wilmington High School sophomore Owen Weaver, who said he’s never been in a car collision before.

“It was definitely interesting to learn how bad things could get without a seat belt,” he said.

After Wilmington High School sophomore Keaten Hansen rode on the seat belt convincer, he said he felt pressure in his body when he crashed.

“You can feel it in your stomach,” he said.

The seat belt convincer gives riders the feeling of a car collision occurring between five and seven miles per hour. The average car crash occurs between 35 and 40 miles per hour, State Trooper Aldo Schumann said.

Pfotenhauer said students today face many impediments to safe driving besides alcohol and not wearing a seat belt. Sleep deprivation and texting are other forms of distraction.

“They are in the technology era and we show them what transpires when you text on your phone or put on makeup. We show them the ramifications,” she said.