Seventeen-year-old Marcella Miller, flanked on both sides by law enforcement officers from around the metro-east, spoke loudly and strongly against distracted and unsafe driving by her peers as well as by adults.
"We are watching, you know," she said of adults who talk on cellphones, drive after drinking, or don't wear their seat belts.
Her message was emphasized by other speakers at the Tuesday press conference by law enforcement officials, urging motorists to buckle up and pay attention over the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend and beyond.
Officers -- in some cases on overtime -- will be out to pull over unbuckled or distracted drivers starting today as part of a nationwide initiative to keep motorists safer this summer.
Research shows that young drivers learn habits -- including distracted driving habits -- from their parents, said Tia Smith, of the Illinois Department of Transportation.
"Put your phone in your purse or in your glove box," Smith said, so that it cannot be used.
IDOT officials say front-seat belt usage is almost 94 percent, but data shows that failing to buckle up can be deadly.
"Your best defense against a drunk driver is your seatbelt," Smith said.
The Illinois State Police coordinate with local agencies to cover roads.
"We will be out there, and we will be visible," said Capt. Joe Kollins, of the Illinois State Police.
Kollins said troopers are assigned for the weekend, complete with an airplane to check for speed. They'll be looking for seat belt violations and drivers distracted by cell phone use. Cellphones must be hands-free devices, he said, under law since Jan. 1.
Columbia Police will be paying special attention to the busy Illinois 3 corridor, Capt. Jerry Paul said, where 33,000 vehicles travel daily. Columbia expects more drivers this weekend and is planning extra officers along the corridor and troublesome intersections.
"Distracted driving is a big problem," Paul said, and officers can pull a driver over for using a cellphone.
He said Columbia is taking advantage of a grant that pays 100 percent of the overtime cost for police officers.
"We wouldn't be able to do it without IDOT funds," he said.
Miller, a Granite City student, asked adults to buckle up, don't drink and drive and to put the cellphone away.
"We want our parents to live forever, we're not finished yet."
Contact reporter Mary Cooley at 618-239-2535 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
Deaths, by gender and age group, of unbelted drivers and passengers from 2009-13, the latest data available from IDOT.
Age group 116-20 21-34 35-44 45-54 56-64 65 or older
Gender M F M F M F M F M F M F
Gender Total 132 67 377 125 144 42 121 43 79 35 95 44
Total by age 199 502 186 164 114 139
Total deaths: 1,304