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Australia Concerns about spike in road trauma as young drivers get behind the wheel again

00:05  14 october  2021
00:05  14 october  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Kilmore student Charlie Stevens was hoping to get his driver's licence in the days or weeks after his 18th birthday in January.

But during Victoria's extensive periods of lockdown, driving practice was not one of the permitted reasons to leave home.

"Now I don't think I will be able to go for my Ps until at least March, if not later," he said.

"I was planning to drive to and from TAFE next year, and I want to be able to catch up with my friends without my parents."

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In Victoria all learner drivers younger than 21 need to log 120 hours of supervised practice, including 20 hours at night.

Despite spending fewer days in lockdown than some of his metropolitan counterparts, Charlie has only been able to clock up 30 hours behind the wheel so far.

His mum Cayte Stevens is concerned about the impact being kept off the road will have for young drivers like her son.

"I think it's just opening us up for trouble when these kids are all getting their licence," she told ABC radio's The Conversation Hour.

"Because they're not really going to have a very wide variety of practice when they get on the roads on their own.

"It's also really stunting what they can do next year."

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The Department of Transport said even learners who had 120 hours of practice could experience delays getting their probationary licence.

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Testing remains suspended at all customer service centres in Melbourne and locked down regional areas.

With scores of tests cancelled, VicRoads expects high demand when testing resumes.

To minimise delays it plans to "put in place a range of measures to work through the backlog", including pop-up testing sites and extra staff.

To try and prevent a similar delays for people applying for their learner permits the department introduced online testing at the end of September.

More than 10,000 people have already completed the hazard perception and learners permit tests online.

'Stop and take charge'

Without much recent driving experience, road safety workshop provider Fit to Drive is concerned about young people getting behind the wheel when lockdown lifts.

"If we're all going to get onto the roads at the same time the degree of potential risk will increase," chief executive Brad Crofts said.

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"There may be a short-term spike in terms of lives lost."

In the last 12 months 32 people aged 16-25 have been killed on Victorian roads, up seven from the same time the previous year.

With parties and pubs about to make a comeback, Mr Crofts said it was not only young drivers who need to be vigilant, but young passengers as well.

"If at any stage you feel unsafe, just please stop and take charge," he said.

"No-one will judge you who counts in your life … because we want you to go safe and come home safe."

Cut corners cost lives

While it may be tempting for learners to falsify hours, Monash University Road Safety expert Stuart Newstead says cutting corners can be fatal.

"You need to get the hours up," he said.

"It's absolutely mandatory, because research has demonstrated that those 120 hours make a big difference to your initial risk."

He is also concerned about the safety of probationary drivers who passed their test just before COVID.

During their first year on the road, drivers with red p-plates face significant restrictions — they need to have zero blood alcohol concentration and can only have one passenger between the ages of 16 and 22.

"One of the dangers we've got are those people who have gone through that red p period without actually having much experience because they've been locked down," Dr Newstead said.

"Now we are getting to a point where those restrictions start to ease, [but they don't] have the experience driving by themselves to develop their skills independently."

How to make up for lost time

With lockdowns lifting, Dr Newstead recommends probationary drivers begin with some supervised trips when they get back behind the wheel.

He encourages learners to seek out some professional lessons on top of driving with family or friends.

"Perhaps just to be patient in getting through the system," he said.

"It's actually very difficult to find a driving instructor at the moment."

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This is interesting!