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ROAD safety is the nation’s biggest health issue. Scratch the surface and look beyond the machines and you’ll see improving road safety is about people, communities and respect for life.
Sadly, as we have been told repeatedly, we are killing ourselves and each other on the endless kilometres of bitumen faster than any disease. And for every death there are 11 people badly hurt.
Last year was a shocker. Just on 360 people breathed their last on Queensland roads in 2007; more than 1600 people died nationally, and the jaded public was largely unmoved. How blase we have become about our road toll.
It’s hard to feel inspired to change our ways when people die daily, but road safety experts know that the key to stemming the blood-letting is to engage road users and make them see that their actions can directly affect their own health and wellbeing, as well as those in the wheeled metal cages around them. It’s about making people want more life, health and safe passage for themselves and others.
It’s been hard to get a real understanding of this to take hold and influence drivers’ behaviour. Most times, road users just don’t really understand until their lives are directly affected and their hearts are broken by road trauma.
But some people and some groups get it. They understand that we cannot rely on someone else to fix the problem, and that we all play a part. Some of these doers will be heralded today at the annual road safety award lunch at Parliament House in Brisbane.
DRIVE 4 LIFE
Thelma Gertz gets it. She developed a program called Drive 4 Life for the Catholic Education diocese of Townsville and it’s being taken up by 30 schools next year. Students in the final years of high school engage in pre-driver learning, but the content and outcome are about so much more: self-esteem, self-identity and community responsibility.
Gertz designed the program for indigenous youth to help them consider what they wanted from their lives, what they wanted to give to their community and how staying healthy would help them be better drivers and positive members of the road-using community.
Drive 4 Life is now an authorised school subject, meaning high schoolers all over who study it will be broadly and thoroughly educated well before they are licensed to drive.
Lara Hickling is making a difference on the Gold Coast. As co-ordinator of the Traffic Offenders Program, she and her team of volunteers have developed close links with the magistrate’s courts and emergency services to help first and second-time offenders understand how their choices behind the wheel affect others.
Her program uses shock and impact methods, and calls on a range of experts to help offenders gain a deep understanding of the ripple effect of their behaviour. It also gives them a shot at receiving a lighter sentence in court because it demonstrates that they are serious about wanting to be good road citizens and not wanting to reoffend.
Belinda Eckford, the principal of Tieri State School northwest of Emerald, understands that little actions can make a big difference on the roads. She and the school’s Year 7 students started by using a speed gun to monitor drivers’ pace on roads around the school and presented a report on school parade each week.
The scheme was so successful, it was broadened to record mobile phone and seatbelt use and the council, surrounding homes and police were made aware of the results through newsletters.
The actions of these and the other 11 finalists in today’s awards have shown that communities and individuals can influence road-user behaviour. Their piece of the state is safer and road users are better educated because they decided to take responsibility instead of hoping someone else would. May they enjoy their well-earned moment in the spotlight today.
We can only hope that the vision and actions of these quiet achievers are infectious and that in time all road users will believe we have the power to make a positive change.
Author: Jane Fynes-Clinton