Janesville high schools kick off safe driving campaign Thursday

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Nick Crow
Monday, February 17, 2014

JANESVILLE — Who doesn't want a new car?

Parker and Craig students who signed a safe driving pledge last fall will have a chance April 24 to win a Chevrolet Cobalt as part of AAA's Operation Click program.

The program, in its first year in Rock County, encourages teens to practice safe driving habits.

"It's been a learning year," said Deri Wahlert, Parker social students teacher and co-adviser for the program. "We've been doing it since October. When the opportunity came to Rock County, we got on board."

The AAA program was formed in Crystal Lake, Ill., in 1998 and has since spread to five counties in Illinois and two in Wisconsin--Rock and Walworth counties. The organization provides $1,500 for promotion and event planning to each school that participates.

"We've got everything ready for our kids," Wahlert said. "Considering it's our first year, it's been great. We hope that each year it will get bigger and better."

Other Rock County high schools participating are Edgerton, Evansville and Parkview.

Walworth County schools participating are Badger, Elkhorn, Whitewater, Big Foot, East Troy, Delavan-Darien and Williams Bay.

One student from each county will win a car.

Wahlert estimated about 75 students signed the pledge at both Parker and Craig.

She said she expects those numbers to grow in coming years, especially if a local student wins the car. The car this year was donated by Burtness Chevrolet.

Students eligible to win the car must be enrolled in school at the time of the drawing, be of driving age and have a valid license at the time of the drawing.

They also must follow the rules of the pledge:

-- No texting and driving.

-- No drinking alcohol and driving.

-- No riding in a vehicle with a driver who has consumed alcohol.

-- Wearing a seat belt at all times when operating or riding in a vehicle.

-- Strongly encouraging passengers to wear seat belts at all times when driving.

-- No alcohol-related or traffic convictions during the school year.

-- No seat belt citations or convictions.

-- No discipline issues at school.

The campaign will culminate in a kick-off event for the Janesville School District at the Parker/Craig girl's basketball game at 7 p.m. Thursday at Parker.

The focus of the kick-off will be the importance of not texting and driving and seat belt safety. A second program focusing on drinking and driving will be promoted closer to prom.

Wahlert said Operation Click shirts, gas and gift cards and an Asus tablet will be raffled off to students during Thursday's game.

"It's just a program to encourage kids to be safe," Wahlert said. "It'll be a neat program."

Hannah Muehlenkamp, a senior at Parker and organizer of the campaign, said she hopes to bring awareness to how dangerous distracted driving can be.

"You never think it will be you," Muehlenkamp said. "A big goal is to show people that it could be you."

Parker senior Becky Harmata said that she got involved because she wants future students to be engaged in the program.

"I think if you keep doing something wrong while driving, it'll turn into a bad habit," Harmata said. "Young people think they're invincible and can do what they want."

The students already have begun doing seat belt and texting checks as students pull into the school parking lot. They are rewarding with candy people who follow the rules and scolding those who don't.

Parker student Claire Fox believes they have gotten people's attention.

"We're the first generation to deal with technology this way," Fox said. "We need to learn and set an example for future generations."

Wahlert said that judgement from peers is an effective way to change student behavior.

"It's like positive peer pressure," Muehlenkamp said. "Students can win a car by pretty much being smart while driving. I almost wish I was younger just so I could see this program get better."

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