CRYSTAL LAKE – Even though she knew what was about to happen, Cassidy Bowers’ hands still shook as she turned the key to a dark blue Ford Fiesta and the lights atop the car began flashing.
As the last contestant in line during Operation Click’s annual car giveaway event, this year held inside Crystal Lake’s Holiday Inn, the Marengo High School junior knew the one remaining key would win her the car.
“I was freaking out as each person before me went through and didn’t get it,” Bowers said, smiling in front of her new car. “Then it came down to me and another girl, and when she didn’t get it, I was just like, ‘Wow, this is it.’ ”
It was one of two Ford Fiestas given away as part of Operation Click’s teen safe driving program.
Bowers and Harvard High School senior Katie Wright were the two lucky winners out of 21 students from 14 schools in McHenry and Kane counties.
Each student signed a safe driving contract at the start of the year and a number were drawn at random, putting those students in the running for a free car. Each teen got to select a key and the two that started the cars won.
For years, Operation Click has focused its attention on seat belt safety, but the organization’s vice president, Nick Pyan, said they’re starting to emphasize other things, such as texting and driving and passenger limits.
Born of a partnership between the Crystal Lake Police Department, Crystal Lake Park District, Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Community High School District 155, Operation Click began in 1998. Since the program’s inception, seat belt use among area teens has risen from roughly 70 percent to 80 percent to a steady 95 percent or higher at local schools, Pyan said.
“In Kane County and McHenry County, all of our schools are up at that 98 to 99 percent, which is amazing,” he added. “Now it’s just a matter of keeping them there.”
Wright has been in the Operation Click program at Harvard High School for a year. She said the statistics about teen deaths and injuries often startle her.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,163 teens in the U.S. ages 16 to 19 were killed in 2013 and 243,243 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in vehicle crashes.
Knowing that distracted driving can often play a part in such crashes, Wright makes a conscious effort to stay safe, more so after Operation Click.
“As soon as I get into my car, my phone goes on the passenger seat and no matter if it goes off, I won’t look until I get to where I’m going,” she said.
Wright is the third winner from Harvard High School in the seven years the school has participated, driver’s education instructor Kyle Cruze said.
Having another winner will just help to reinvigorate kids to be part of the program in the future, he added.
“Since we’ve won before, this really energizes the kids,” Cruze said. “We want to keep this going because life’s too short. We want to make sure our kids get to where they want to go.”