Ford Driving Skills For Life, a free program aimed at teaching young people valuable road skills, is back up and running, and the focus this year is on driving at night.

    James Stewart, founder and director of Driving Solutions which runs the program locally, says it aims to help address concerning driver behaviours before they become ingrained.

    “We also understand that a lot of the habits with young drivers are habits that their parents had and their parents had, because that’s who’s told them how to drive,” said Mr Stewart.

    “Look, if I could change the world overnight, I’d love to just say hey, from this line, everyone needs to know this, but the problem is that we’ve already got generations that aren’t driving to the capabilities and the understanding of motor vehicles, hence why the road toll is so bad nationwide.

    “We’re losing over 1800 people every year on Australian roads, for roads that are getting better, cars that are getting safer… the road toll should be getting less.

    “That’s where Ford is coming along, saying where do we start to fix this problem? Let’s start with the next generation and give them the best chance of survival.”

    Driving Skills for Life resumed again in May and after sessions in the Northern Territory this month, it’ll move to Victoria and New South Wales in July and August and later to Queensland.

    The program, for drivers aged between 16 and 24, operates both in Australia and abroad, and is tailored depending on the country and whether it’s being conducted in an urban or regional area.

    Among other things, drivers are shown how to do an emergency stop at speeds of up to 80km/h and on a split surface, and get to put on a “fatigue suit” that simulates a blood alcohol level of 0.05.

    They’re also warned of the risks of modifying or over-loading their vehicles, and the importance of maintaining them.

    Mr Stewart said too many young people are in cars that don’t have sufficient safety technology.

    “I think the worst thing that we’re doing at the moment is that we’re giving our most inexperienced drivers the worst cars they’ll drive when they start, with no technology because we think, ‘Well, they’re going to crash or they’re going to damage something, so let’s not spend it on a good car’.”

    “I’d love to be able to look at like a HECS fee or something like that to give young drivers the five-star safety rating car to start with, to give them the best chance of survival to start with.

    “And when I say a five-star car, it doesn’t have to be a brand-new car but just a five-star car from five years ago.”

    At a minimum, Mr Stewart says if you’re buying a car it needs to have airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, and a good set of tyres.

    “I think that’s the best chance we can give our kids to start off with and sadly when we make our first mistake, if we don’t have those safety features, sometimes we don’t live to tell the tale,” he said.

    Mr Stewart said another key reason the road toll is so high is the lack of courtesy exhibited by drivers.

    “There’s a lot of ‘me’ when we drive, we don’t consider other people, and I think the courtesy of driving a motor vehicle has been lost over time,” he said.

    “Let’s put a bit of courtesy back on the roads. Let’s give each other a bit of space, let’s give each other a bit of respect and we’ve got to start somewhere with that message.

    “And sadly, a 30-, a 40-, a 50-year old, it’s very hard to change their habits, but if we can start with the next generation maybe that’s the best way of doing it.

    “You look at places in Europe, you flash your lights on the Autobahn and people will get out of your way. In Australia, someone flashes their lights at you and they’ll wave at you with only one finger being held up.”

    Ford says it’s focusing on night-time driving this year due to the elevated risk of injury or death, citing data from the Victorian Transport Accident Commission that found young drivers are seven times more likely than fully licenced drivers to be killed or injured while driving in the dark.

    It’s using new Rangers and Everests in the program this year.

    “When you look at especially country drivers, there are a lot more larger SUVs, so where 10 years ago young kids would want to drive a Focus or something like that, now it’s all about Rangers so [let’s] get them into cars they’re going to be driving,” said Mr Stewart.

    By using new vehicles, the program also allows participants to experience the latest technology.

    The size of each intake depends on the area. At its recent Alice Springs session, it had 12 participants and two instructors. In Melbourne, it will have groups of 50 participants and 10 instructors.

    Ford Driving Skills For Life is funded by the not-for-profit Henry Ford Foundation, which is involved in numerous charitable efforts, and has been in operation since 2003.

    Registrations for the next sessions are now open, with drivers aged 16-24 with a valid learner’s permit or driver’s licence eligible – you can register here.

    The next sessions are as follows:

    • Melbourne International Raceway, Victoria: Friday, July 21
    • Sydney Motorsport Parkway, Eastern Creek, New South Wales: Friday, August 18
    • Lithgow, New South Wales: Saturday, August 19

    Queensland locations have yet to be announced.

    William Stopford

    William Stopford is an automotive journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. William is a Business/Journalism graduate from the Queensland University of Technology who loves to travel, briefly lived in the US, and has a particular interest in the American car industry.

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