The first RYDA (Rotary Youth Driver Awareness) programme in Dannevirke was all about planting seeds in the subconscious of young drivers, Palmerston North's Juliette Wilson said.

Wilson, one of the compelling speakers at the Dannevirke Rotary event, says, "I do the crash survivor talk."

But hers is a story almost too brutal to comprehend for the 79 Year 12 students attending.

Wilson was 21 and can't remember the crash at 10.30am on December 4, 2005.


In a car, with her boyfriend at the wheel of his 1998 Holden Commodore, her life was left hanging by a thread, when he crashed into a ditch while passing another vehicle.

Wilson has battled her way back from horrific injuries to tell her story.

"He was a car enthusiast and a show-off.

"I was his first girlfriend and he was trying to impress. I'm not impressed even now. I wasn't a very assertive person, so I didn't tell him to slow down and stop."

The driver initially told police he was only travelling at 120km/h, but after investigations by the Serious Crash Unit he admitted he was speeding at 150-155km/h.

Wilson suffered critical head injuries and doctors didn't think she would last the night. She was given a 20 per cent chance of survival and wasn't responding to treatment.

In a coma for two and a half weeks, she had part of her skull cut away to ease pressure on her swollen brain and her mother made the terrible choice to turn off her life support.

But she made it through.


Wilson now works for the Mana o te Tangata Trust, helping people who have mental-health issues, and sometimes those with head injuries.

She also speaks to high school students about making safe decisions.

"Girls who attended the programme found Juliette's story the most compelling," Dannevirke Rotary president Diana Mancer said.

"In fact, all the students were engaged, alert and asking relevant questions at all six sessions."

Wilson's crash survivor presentation was one of six RYDA sessions, which had an impact on the Year 12 students from Dannevirke High School and Totara College, teachers and Rotary volunteers.

"This programme has been great for the kids," Rotarian Valma Bycroft said.

"Juliette's story hit home for me. My son John suffered head injuries and had to learn to walk and talk again."

Freya Kerr is the RYDA chairwoman for Rotary District 9940, which covers the area from Wellington to Taranaki and up to Dannevirke.

Twenty schools in her Rotary District are now involved.

"RYDA is shown to have a significant impact on young drivers' safety," Kerr said.

And Maria Lovelock from Auckland, the programme manager for New Zealand, told the Dannevirke News RYDA was a potentially lifesaving road-safety education programme.

"We are a resource schools can use alongside their driver education training.

"A lot of the sessions focus on attitude, along with speed, drugs, alcohol and cellphone use," Lovelock said.

"Driving is a risk and students learn they need to think more deeply about the decisions they are making.

"Road Safety Education are providers of the RYDA programme, a series of practical and powerful workshops for high school students which challenge students to change the way they think about road safety and lay the foundation for safe road use throughout their lives.

"Statistics tell us that the most dangerous time for any young road user is in the first six to 12 months of being a solo driver.

"Young people continue to be over-represented in deaths and injuries on our roads – it is a national tragedy that nearly 80 young people aged 15-24 died on our roads last year.

"For each one of these fatalities approximately 10 more suffer life-changing situations such as brain and spinal injuries.

"There are a number of reasons, some outside a young driver's control, why they are at such high risk.

"Their brains are still developing, they exhibit sensation-seeking behaviour, they are greatly influenced by peer pressure, they often drive less road-worthy cars, can be sleepy and often drive at night or for 'fun'.

"Most importantly, they lack experience in the broad range of driving situations and road conditions.

"It's up to us as a community to bridge that gap of inexperience and underdevelopment with as many tools as we can for better planning and decision making. That's what the RYDA programme is all about."

Dannevirke High School's academic dean, Allan Carr, said almost all the students were on a learner's licence and were the perfect target for RYDA.

"Our principal, Di Carter, is a member of the Dannevirke Rotary Club and saw this was a gap we need to fill.

"These students are the perfect target audience to learn the good driving habits. It just makes sense."

RYDA Programme:
• Highlights road safety messages and is targeted at 15-17-year-olds as they begin to drive or ride in cars driven by their peers.

• The RYDA programme is a community based initiative co-ordinated through local Rotary clubs to help make our roads safer, with the support from corporate sponsors including BOC, NZ Steel, Bridgestone, AMI and the Alexander Group. In the Tararua District support also comes from the Eastern and Central Community Trust.

• 7000 students a year go through the programme, attending six workshop sessions.

• RYDA teaches drivers how to manage distractions, gives them an understanding and acceptance of the rules of the road and the laws of physics. It helps them to plan their journey and gives them strategies to avoid risk. It teaches passengers how to contribute positively to the car's environment and speak up if they are uncomfortable.

• In 2017 380 people lost their lives on our roads, up 16 per cent compared with 2016 and up almost 30 per cent overall since 2014.

• 20 per cent of these deaths were 15 to 24-year-olds.