Boy racers changing course

By Elizabeth Binning

When Alex Oaariki was caught by police after a high-speed pursuit down the Southern Motorway the troublesome Manurewa man was angry.

Angry that he had been caught and angry that his sentence included not only eight months of disqualification and community work but a requirement for him to attend the Right Track Driver Programme.

"I thought it was ratshit," said Alex, who hadn't really learned his lesson despite going through the court process. "I didn't want to do it, I hated it."

The teen found himself in trouble after a night out with the boys at the drags just over a year ago.

"We were just sitting out there and nothing was happening so we decided to come home. There were three of us ... we jumped on to the motorway. As we came around the bend we saw seven cops all lined up."

The trio had just finished racing each other and were doing about 120km/h.

"I just saw a cop car pull out and they blocked me in. I just decided to run. I was playing with them, pulling into the slow lane, wondering if I should pull over, then I pulled into the middle and fast lane. Then I decided to gap it."

The chase came to an end when Alex was forced to pull over, after running out of fuel.

Alex was charged and appeared in the Manukau Youth Court. Part of his sentence included completing the Right Track programme, an eight-week course which is designed to show high-risk teens the consequences of their risk-taking on the roads.

What the then head-strong and troublesome teen didn't realise was the course, which is done with a parent, would not only improve his driving but change his life.

On the day the programme started, Alex and his father Terry were picked up by police in a van and taken to the courts. He was put in the cells before being taken into a courtroom and shown how the legal system works. They were told about the costs of accidents and shown photos of what happens to the body.

"That was freaky, just seeing all their body parts all split up, dislocated hearts and their brains gone. Even just a little accident can cause a lot of damage."

From there the group made their way to the Otara spinal unit where they gained first hand-experience of what can happen when you are in an accident.

While out on the road they came across a serious accident.

The car was smashed in and windows were broken. People were trapped and bleeding.

Not realising it was a mock accident, the teens and their parents ran to see if they could help. It was only then they were told it was not real and they were given information about what to do at an accident, and how to help.

During the programme, the group also heard from a man who had been hit by a drink-driver. It was a defining moment for Alex, who was deeply moved by the man's story.

"He had to learn how to read, speak and walk again. He had to learn everything, it was like he was born again."

By the time the course had finished "everything had changed" for Alex.

The teen, who has a 1 1/2-year-old daughter, no longer felt the need to race his car in order to impress. "I have got a turbo so I don't need to show off."

When a mate recently asked him to go in his new car and "rip it out" Alex declined.

"I said 'Nah, all good. If you want to race, go sus out the Meremere track'."

Alex still loves his cars and talks proudly of his superlowered Subaru Legacy but feels no need to show off in it. When he goes out he just cruises at the speed limit.

Racing no longer holds any interest and he has been a campaigner against drink and driving - even to the point where he has stood up to relatives and prevented them from getting into a car after drinking.

"That's not the way to lose your life, getting pissed with the boys, then gapping it and crashing."

Alex's mother Riki said she could not believe the change in her son, who had gone back to work and spent more time with family than friends.

Around 60 young people from across Manukau have attended the Right Track Programme this year, which was devised by Sergeant Marko Radojkovich and Senior Sergeant Mike Stopforth, with the help of Manukau City Council and ACC. It is now run by a trust.

Mr Radojkovich said the cost of the programme was a fraction of the cost of a fatal crash.

"The young people on the programme come to understand just how fragile and precious life is and it renews their enthusiasm to make the right choices and pursue positive changes in their lives. Alex Oaariki is an excellent example of this."

Three further Manukau programmes are scheduled for 2008 and it is expected to be rolled out across the Auckland City district as well.

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