Local police officers drive home safety to teens

By on April 3, 2010

by Susan O’Neill
GENEVA—Batavia police officer Dennis Harper has more than 20 years experience in law enforcement. With many of those years as an accident investigator, he knows what causes accidents.

The Sugar Grove resident said the desire to bring his knowledge of how those accidents could have been avoided to area teenagers is what motivated him to open his own driving school, Drive Home Safe.

Harper and his partner Robert Kopczynski recently opened for business in the Pepper Valley Shopping Center on Kaneville Road east of Randall Road in Geneva. Kopczynski, a police officer in Elmhurst, John Lambert, also on the Batavia police force, and Steve Furlan, a police officer in Elburn, are instructors with the school.

Harper said the value that he and his fellow officers bring to their instruction is a good understanding of defensive driving. He and Kopczynski have spent years teaching defensive driving to police officers around Illinois. They are also licensed through the Illinois Secretary of State to teach teenagers.

Students initially go through the state-mandated 30 hours of classroom training before they get into the driver’s seat. Harper said part of the classroom experience includes talks from a Kane County judge and a prosecutor from the State’s Attorney’s office about the judicial system and current laws regulating teenage drivers.

The students then receive six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. This instruction begins in a parking lot with traffic cones set up in a type of obstacle course. Here, the students learn in a safe environment the relationship between an object and their vehicles, Harper said.

The probability of a 16 year-old having an accident in their first year of driving is 70 percent, Harper said. He said that he and his instructors want to lessen that percentage, as well as to reduce the likelihood of severe injuries should an accident occur, by having students practice the defensive maneuvers learned in their classes.

“When someone comes into your lane, rather than put on your breaks and try to stop, we teach students how to maneuver around that vehicle rather than hitting it head-on,” he said. “We teach them how to maneuver from one lane to another without over-steering, and we set up the cones to demonstrate.”

The remainder of the driving instruction is on the road with another student along to fulfill the observation requirements.

The car used in the behind-the-wheel training is the new 2010 Kia Soul, which Harper said has many active safety features to help drivers avoid accidents, as well as passive systems to help minimize injuries when they are unavoidable.

He said that in addition to choosing the Soul for its safety features, he and his partner thought the mid-sized sporty-looking vehicle would be fun for teenagers to drive.

“It turns out the dads like it, too,” he said with a laugh.

Harper said he hopes to expand the business, with branches in Batavia, Oswego, Sugar Grove and St. Charles.

Photo: Batavia police officer Dennis
Harper of Sugar Grove stands next to his
company’s two Kia Souls.
Drive Home Safe Driving School in Geneva is run by
Harper and is staffed by officers from Batavia, Elburn and Elmhurst police
Photo by Susan O’Neill