The Deniliquin and district community is at the forefront of an attempt to save young lives on country roads.
The Driver Education Program is a week-long intensive program that covers all aspects of road safety, and protecting the lives of young drivers and other people they share the roads with.
The program is coordinated by Deniliquin High School P&C committee and the school staff, with support for various agencies, departments and all local emergency services.
This week, another class of soon-to-be drivers has participated in the program, with the last of the sessions being held today.
It is the seventh group of Year 10 students to benefit from the annual program.
Deniliquin Police Detective Inspector Jy Brown said the program is succeeding in changing the driving culture of young people in the district community.
But he said, as with all things, there is always more to do.
‘‘I believe since the induction of the program the driving behaviour of young people in the Deniliquin area has improved,’’ Det Insp Brown said.
‘‘We have certainly seen behaviours changing, but there is still always more improvement and education needed.
‘‘We have certainly seen there are not as many young people drink driving or being fined for not wearing seatbelts, but reckless behaviour like speeding and burnouts is still a problem.
‘‘We think with the continuation of the program we can start to make a change to those behaviours too.
‘‘Certainly road trauma is still a focus for New South Wales Police, and enforcing the road rules.’’
Each year, the program starts with a shock to the system for the would-be drivers taking part in the program, with a mock accident rescue delivered by all emergency services.
As an extension of this, students followed the chain of command that would occur in the event of a road accident and the part they play — from the insurance agency and hospital, to the police station.
The program has also covered mental health and wellbeing, presented by Deniliquin High School counsellor Lyn Bond.
Sharing the roads with heavy vehicles was highlighted with a visit from the Australian Trucking Association’s Safety Truck, which is fitted with interactive activities including scenarios they may encounter on the road when driving in or near a heavy vehicle.
Students are given a chance to see how visibility is hindered behind the steering wheel of a truck.
Seeing the value of the program in protecting the community, the Deniliquin Sporting Car Club offered its services to the program five years ago.
Its members, driving instructor Brian Purtill and Deniliquin Rotary volunteers offer students the chance to drive the club’s track off Racecourse Rd, while learning about road rules and driving skills.
‘‘Initially the high school went down to Elmore for a special program, so they would have to hire a bus which would cost them quite a bit of money in the process,’’ Sporting Car Club member and Rotarian Tony Kew said.
‘‘We thought, we have the facilities and we’d save the high school and kids money, and it gives them the opportunity to spend the whole day out here.
‘‘A few of the kids have come through to the car club afterwards, so it’s been a good pick up.’’
The aim of the day at the track is to give students a ‘‘growing confidence’’ behind the wheel with a licensed driver, where they can test their driving capabilities in a safe, controlled environment.
‘‘We hope the kids who haven’t driven before can get some basic knowledge about how to drive, and those that have can learn to control themselves.
‘‘The students have been excellent and it’s amazing the progress they make from when they start, to when the day finishes.
‘‘You see their confidence go up a little bit and sometimes we have a couple who get over confident and get taken back a bit when something goes wrong. But that’s the point of the day.’’
Mr Kew said he has noted there have been no road fatalities involving local young people since the program began.
‘‘If we’ve saved one life it makes it all worth it. That’s why it’s good they learn to drive on a track where it doesn’t matter if they spin-out, because they have the freedom to drive in their own comfort zone, and they can’t do any damage.
‘‘They’re also driving on a dirt track, so if you can drive on dirt you can pretty much drive on anything.’’
A key component of this year’s program was to highlight the very real consequences of road accidents, with double crash victim Jon Maher hosting both a student and a community session.
Rendered unable to work as a result of a crash he suffered in his early 40s, Mr Maher then lost his youngest daughter Carmen in a crash a few years later. She is believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel.
He has since dedicated his life to delivering Carmen’s Road Safety Message.
He was invited to speak in Deniliquin this week, his second time helping with the Driver Education Program, by Deniliquin Police youth liaison officer Senior Constable Paul Ebsworth.
‘‘We lost our younger daughter 23 years ago and I’ve been speaking for 21 years,’’ Mr Maher said.
‘‘I heard about the deaths of a group of boys in a car rollover when the vehicle went up in flames.
‘‘From then on, I decided not to feel sorry for myself any more; I wanted to tell my story in the hope of stopping tragedy reaching these families.
‘‘Obviously I share different perspectives of my story to parents and students to get my message of family values across, because there are certain ideas which one responds to over the other.
‘‘So if by speaking I can make the community safer by encouraging youth to respect the roads, that makes it all worth it because it means they listened.’’
Deniliquin High School principal Glenn Warren said he is grateful for all volunteers and businesses who supported the week.
‘‘It’s really a fantastic program the school runs, along with the support of many local organisations, to ensure students understand the nature of their responsibilities on our roads and the possible outcomes of their decisions while behind the wheel.
‘‘It’s great to see them (the Year 10 students) so involved and absorbing information, in one of the best driver education programs in the state.
‘‘It’s all about protecting our youth and continuing to keep them safe.’’