I think all of us who were around in 2006, when the Tribune embarked on the Teens at the Wheel project, appreciate how important the issue of teen driving is.
And, I like to think that our year-long emphasis on the topic and all the related issues gave teen driving widespread recognition as the leading cause of teen deaths.
For so long, I think most folks accepted the problem as an intractable, heartbreaking rite of passage. But our newsroom’s commitment to digging deep and looking broadly at teen driving proved substantial progress can be made. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who I think always has placed a high priority on saving lives, took note of our coverage and decided to push for significant change.
A state task force was created; ideas were brainstormed and legislation proposed. By Jan. 1, 2008, an enhanced graduated driver licensing system was in place in Illinois and improvement was almost immediate. Deaths among 16- 17- and 18-year-old drivers dropped to 39 in 2008, from 59 the year before; In 2009, that number fell again, to 31.
Those results represent one of those moments in the newspaper business when a very serious commitment yields tangible benefits, and it’s made all of us very aware that we need to stay on top of the latest developments. Lives depend on it.
-- Ted Gregory
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