Safety net for learner drivers

A range of help is being offered to vulnerable young motorists, writes Carolyn Rance.

A range of help is being offered to vulnerable young motorists, writes Carolyn Rance.

State and local government workers in New South Wales are using social media, a new learner driver course, and community events to educate young drivers about road safety.

Roads Minister Duncan Gay announced in August that the numbers of drivers caught in Sydney using their mobile phones while driving dropped more than 13 per cent in the six weeks following the launch of the government's Get Your Hand Off It campaign.

Almost 43,000 infringement notices were issued to NSW drivers for using handheld phones while driving in 2012. The social media campaign targets younger drivers who make up a substantial number of offenders.

The initiative is one of a number designed to improve driving skills and behaviour among young people, who are over-represented in the state's road toll.

A new regulation allows learners to travel at 90km/h, instead of 80km/h. The move is designed to give them more supervised driving experience at higher road speeds before they graduate to their P-plates.

A new Safer Drivers Course, designed by road safety experts including employees of NSW Police and the Centre for Road Safety, Roads and Maritime Services, is being offered to learner drivers. Those who complete it receive 20 hours' credit towards their required 120 hours of supervised driving experience during their learner period.

The course was launched in July and the state government reports that more than 500 learner drivers enrolled for its first six weeks of operation. The training focuses on the risks that P-platers face in their first months of solo driving.

Initiatives are also under way to help young drivers from remote, lower socio-economic and Aboriginal communities to qualify for their P-plates.

At local government level, Tamworth Regional Council has organised its 17th annual Young Drivers Expo. Year 11 students from as far away as Tenterfield, Muswellbrook and Taree were among more than 1400 young people who spent a day considering road safety, says council business and events officer Catherine Burton.

Some students participated in a simulated accident, designed to raise awareness of how easily death and injury can occur. A B-double driver showed young people the view from his cab, illustrating that car drivers need to clearly signal their intentions and keep a safe distance from heavy vehicles.

Burton joined the staff at Tamworth three years ago after working with the events team at Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. Attracted to the regional centre by an opportunity to work on the world's second largest country music festival, she enjoys the variety of local government events work.

"I've worked on youth, sporting and community events as well as Tamworth Country Music Festival. The Young Drivers Expo has such a good reputation that it attracts schools from well outside our area. Some students had a four-hour drive to get here. It targets students who are getting - or about to get - their L or P plates and gives them valuable life skills.

"This year, there were 70-plus workshops and amazing input from the organisations involved."

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