Illinois High School Addresses Teen Traffic Safety Through Service-Learning Approach

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, accounting for approximately one-third of all teenage deaths (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to be involved in a crash (CDC, 2009).

One school district in Gibson City, Illinois takes a comprehensive, curricular approach to increasing awareness of avoidable causes of teen driving crashes. Through its Drive to Survive service-learning program, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School (GCMS) gives students the opportunity to take a hands-on role in informing their peers of the dangers of distracted driving.

The mission of Drive to Survive is to “promote safety on the roadways by eliminating distractions and unsafe practices, preventing vehicular crashes, and most importantly, saving lives.” GCMS uses a multidisciplinary approach to ensure the mission permeates the school environment:

  • Multimedia journalism classes undertake video production projects related to traffic safety (GCMS students have produced more than thirty videos in their efforts to prevent the loss of teen lives due to motor vehicle crashes).
  • Math students learn how to calculate appropriate following distances while driving in dry, wet, and icy conditions.
  • Agriculture courses include material on sharing rural roads safely with farming equipment.
  • Art courses involve producing banners and signage to promote the cause of License to Live.
  • Writing courses have students composing content related to traffic safety for a traffic safety magazine and other print marketing materials.

At the beginning of each school year, GCMS students take a survey to test their knowledge of traffic laws. The survey also asks them to identify areas of concern that they have around the issue of traffic safety. Based on these surveys, Drive to Survive peer leaders—a group of about a dozen students—determine the focus of the Drive to Survive efforts for the subsequent school year.

The GCMS Drive to Survive program shares its experiences and best practices with entities around the country. GCMS takes part in a distracted driving coalition in Illinois—a collaboration involving the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the National Safety Council, and the Illinois Secretary of State; they discuss best practices with high schools in several states via Skype; and they share information with Illinois high school and college driver education associations. Additionally, the GCMS Drive to Survive team presents at various meetings and conferences around the nation, such as the Illiana Teen Traffic Safety Seminar and the 2009 Lifesavers Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 2005, GCMS students participated in State Farm’s Project Ignition, a grant program that employs service-learning initiatives to address teen driver safety issues. GCMS’s submission to the 2005 Project Ignition program, License to Live: Shattered Dreams, earned the school the title “Best of the Best” in the national competition. The submission included mock vehicle crashes, a vehicle rollover demonstration, and school assemblies coordinated with local law enforcement, EMT, coroner, and hospital officials. The success of this Drive to Survive project energized the school and its students to keep up the good work.

GCMS continues to partner with entities such as the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) and the National Organization for Youth Safety (NOYS) to win a long list of competitions. In 2008, GCMS won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rural Youth Traffic Safety Message Competition. They presented their message campaign at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, DC.

For more information on the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School Drive to Survive program, visit Learn more about service-learning and teen driving safety by visiting the youth topics page.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2010). Drivers aged 16 or 17 years involved in fatal crashes—United States, 2004–2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 59 (41), 1329-1334. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2009). Web-based injury statistics query and reporting system (WISQARS). Retrieved from