Tens of thousands of 16 and 17-year-olds have become registered organ donors since a new state law was enacted earlier this year, which could mean more available replacement organs for those in need.

Under the provisions of the Drive for Life Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, all residents 16 or older may choose to officially register as organ donors when they receive a driver’s license or identification card. Parents or adult guardians retain the right to overturn a teen’s decision until the registered donor turns 18.

The new law provides the state with an opportunity to expand its organ donor registry, according to Henry Haupt, deputy press secretary to Jesse White. Since the law’s enactment, more than 20,000 Illinois teens have signed up for the First-Person Consent Registry, said Haupt. In many cases, teens register as donors at the same time they receive their first driver’s licenses. Haupt said more donors in the registry can mean more replacement organs will be available.

“That’s the amazing thing about organ donation,” he said. “We have increased the registry to such an extent it gives many people who are in dire need of a kidney or another organ a second chance at life.”

Register is simple, Haupt said. People can call 1-800-210-2106, or they can go to one of the 138 Illinois driver services facilities. The nearest facilities can be found at 200 S. Second St. in Pekin and at 3311 N. Sterling Ave. #12 in the Sterling Bazaar Shopping Plaza in Peoria.

Registration at a driver services facility, Haupt said, provides teens with the convenience of “one-stop shopping.” They can register as part of the process of acquiring a driver’s license rather than having to make a return visit to the facility, sign up online or register by telephone. For more information about becoming a registered organ or tissue in Illinois, visit www.lifegoeson.com.

Since the law went into effect, the number of registered organ donors has increased to nearly 6.5 million, including more than 20,000 teens who have joined the registry.

“Teenagers are making a difference across the country,” said White in an April 2 press release. “They are making their voices heard and people are listening. Here in Illinois, they are expressing their intention to help others when they sign up to become organ/tissue donors.”

Illinois is among the last states to lower the minimum age for organ donor registry from 18. The delay in adding 16 and 17 year olds to the First-Person Consent Registry was the result of the need to draft legislation and pass it through Illinois’ General Assembly. Despite Illinois’ late entry to the list of states allowing teens to register as organ donors, Haupt pointed out that Illinois has been a pioneer in efforts to expand the donor registry.

“Back in 2010, we established the First-Person Consent Registry, which is very different from registries before that in which people were required to get two witnesses to sign the back of their driver’s licenses,” he said. “At the time of someone’s passing, a registered donor’s family was contact(ed), and the family had to make the determination that it was OK to proceed. First Person Incentive 2010 is basically a contract with the state. When someone signs up to be an organ or tissue donor, that request is granted.”