by Keith Beebe
The rate of fatal car crashes in Kane County involving people under the age of 25 is alarmingly high, and while no one seems to have any answers as to why this is, the Sugar Grove Police Department believes they have the solution: education.
The Alive at 25 safety program is a class intended to educate teens who are in drivers education, plus people who have received traffic tickets, about the great responsibility a person has when they are behind the wheel of a vehicle. The program also brings the horror of a car crash to the classroom, graphically emphasizing the consequences of driving recklessly, intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
Initially adopted in Colorado, the Alive at 25 program was placed in drivers education programs, leading to a 20 percent decrease in car-related fatalities among teen drivers.
â€œAlthough it’s called Alive at 25, most of the classes we do (are with) students (ages) 16 to about 20,â€ said John Sizer, investigator for the Sugar Grove Police Department. â€œIn that age group, you’re at highest risk. If anybody that age is going to die, it’s typically going to be in a car crash. So we’ve tried to separate those people from the rest of the drivers in the Drivers Safety program. I’ve been training for National Safety Council for about eight years, and it’s mostly adults.â€
The program has been well received by Kaneland High School students, perhaps due in part to a little parking permit incentive.
â€œWe worked with Kaneland High School for this first year to initially make it voluntary,â€ Sizer said. â€œIf they (students) wanted a discount on their parking permit, they could take the Alive at 25 program and get a $50 discount. It’s a $40 class that they are getting for free, plus the $50 discount. Not too bad of a deal. So we offered it to them on a voluntary basis and to date, we’ve trained about 150 Kaneland students. It’s worked really well.â€
The Alive at 25 program was first recommended to the Sugar Grove Chamber of Commerce by a representative from Waubonsee Community College. The village showed immediate interest in the safety program, because, at the time, Village Administrator Brent Eichelberger and Village President Sean Michels both had kids who would be driving soon.
â€œWhat Alive at 25 does is deal with issues like maturity, lack of experience, accepting responsibility, finding out what the consequences are for what they’re doing,â€ Sizer said. â€œAnd when we talk with these kids, a lot of them will admit that they’re relatively new to driving; they’ve never been given this level of responsibility. It’s an adult responsibility; they’re going to be treated like adults, and the consequences are very adult.â€
Those consequences are made painfully clear to those enrolled in the Alive at 25 class, with crash scene photographs.
â€œI use a lot of pictures as examples,â€ Sizer said. â€œA picture’s worth a thousand words, so when I am trying to get a point across about speeding and what the consequences are, I’ll show them photographsâ€”these are local, recent, cases that they’ve probably read about in the paper, with people that they may have known who were involved. I’ll show them pictures of what the consequences are if you’re doing 100 miles an hour. Pictures of what the consequences are if you start drinking or doing drugs and decide you’re going to drive.â€
Sizer is concise when asked why Kane County needs the Alive at 25 program.
â€œIn the month of October, we went to four fatal crashes in the south end of Kane County. Three out of the four involved alcohol; three out of the four victims were under the age of 25, and with three out of the four, speed was involved.â€