The grief and regret of accident survivors have proved a powerful tool in reducing death and injury among young drivers.
P-platers and young adults who’ve only just received their full licences have long been identified as the group most likely to be involved in serious and fatal accidents on our roads.
After many false starts it seems we’ve finally cracked the code and are getting through to this group, reducing needless and tragic waste by drawing on the experience of survivors as well as reflecting on the grief of family left to mourn young lives. Consequences feature strongly as learners are taught that their actions can change lives – theirs and those of their friends.
A good example of the new formula is the message spread by the Blue Datto Foundation founded in 2015 by the family of a youngster, Philip Vassallo, who died in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligent driving.
Named for the blue Datsun ute Philip drove, the foundation spreads the word among Sydney schools of the consequences that flow from road tragedy.
Lauren Northen, Phil’s older sister, explains to groups of Year 10 students how traumatic it is dealing with death and grief.
“You don’t get the chance to say goodbye or anything like that so I found that particularly difficult to deal with.
“(The grieving process) is something that I realised doesn’t really stop. It’s continual and I don’t think it will ever finish,” she told Hatch.
The presentation is built on her realisation that school driver education didn’t tell the full story: there’s what she refers to as “a missing link”. She found that speaking to kids about the consequences, in a familiar environment, rather than amid the stress of a driving lesson, made it easier for them to relax and engage with the message, and to share their own experiences.
The Blue Datto Foundation has grown rapidly, connecting with about 6000 students this year according to Mrs Northen. The activities the foundation undertakes when students participate include “various activities around risks and distractions, but also they look at what they can say and do to get out of dangerous situations in and around a car”.
She strongly encourages young people to speak up, if they think a driver is being careless or reckless. By doing so, young people can have a sobering effect on their friends.
Though accidents and fatalities among young drivers in the period 2014-2016 were better than those posted in 2008-2010, there was a spike last year. The improvement, though slow, suggests the various programs targeting young drivers are having an impact.
“(It’s very rewarding) going into schools… We’ve received feedback … that they used the skills and tools that they’ve learnt in our workshop to get out of situations and that was really powerful,” Mrs Northen said.
Survivors often present starkly confronting stories that can have a powerful effect on young people learning driving skills.
Martin Crew is a survivor who has spoken to students at his old high school, Bede Polding College, in Windsor.
He tells Year 10 students how he allowed a friend on a learner’s licence to drive his mother’s car. They drove into a park, went too fast, and the car flipped. He ended up in hospital; his friend died on the spot. He remembers well waking in hospital: “[My mother] just looked at me…and that was enough.”
As fate would have it, Mr Crew became a firefighter and has, far too often, to help cut people out of their cars and deal with road fatalities.
The program has won the approval and respect of police and regulatory authorities which campaign to improve driver safety.
Sergeant John Breaden, supervisor of the Hawkesbury Highway Patrol (HWP), runs a Young Driver Awareness Program that aims to help people “become more aware of the potential dangers of both driving on the road and using the road as a pedestrian or passenger”.
“Ultimately I’d like to think that if the message I’m trying to send changes the behaviour of one person on the road then it has all been worthwhile,” he told Hatch.
Unfortunately not everyone voluntarily participates in such programs and Sgt Breaden says it’s difficult to find a solution that can reach all young drivers.
“Sadly we can’t put old heads on young shoulders. The government is trying everything in its power to bring down the road toll. But the road toll continues to rise in NSW, both in the inner city suburbs moving all the way through the country to outback NSW.”
As a young driver who has his P2 licence, I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to benefit from such programs. The stories I have heard have made me far more aware of the potential dangers when I drive and of when to exercise extra caution. I think about the feelings of loss and grief people have described and I don’t want to go through that. I don’t think anyone should have to go through it.
So do yourself a favour… If you haven’t attended a program like this, find out where you can. It could save a life – quite possibly yours. – Patrick Staveley @staveley98
To contact the Blue Datto Foundation visit bluedatto.org.au.
To contact the Hawkesbury HWP Safe Driving program email firstname.lastname@example.org
Top photo: Blue Datto volunteer Levi Tynan addresses students at Bede Polding College. Photo by Patrick Staveley