In 2000, four Australian teenage boys were killed in a car driven by an inexperienced restricted driver. The car smashed into an innocent woman's vehicle. The woman was badly injured but four young lives were
lost. The local Rotary club decided that something needed to be done and the first RYDA course was conducted by the club in 2001.
This year Rotary Young Driver Awareness (RYDA) is 20 years old and is delivered through the non-profit organisation Road Safety Education. The one-day programme has been part of hundreds of secondary schools throughout Australia and New Zealand during that time.
During the past few weeks RYDA has been delivered to schools throughout Northland, and more than 7,000 year 12 New Zealand students will benefit from the programme this year.
RYDA is designed for 16 to 18-year-olds who are at a crucial time in their lives when they start to drive independently or are travelling as passengers with novice drivers. It is not a driving school and is not about teaching practical driving skills.
The programme has an overarching theme of "My Life - My Choices' and focuses on thinking, behaviour, planning and attitudes, both as drivers and passengers, so that they can protect each other in their new experiences.
For most young drivers it is not their fault they are in the highest-risk group. Their brains are still developing, they exhibit sensation-seeking behaviour, they are highly influenced by peer pressure, they drive less roadworthy cars, they can be sleepy and often drive at night and for "fun".
Six interactive sessions make up the RYDA course. It starts with Mind Matters - the state of mind and mood young people have in traffic situations affecting decision-making ability.
It continues with Road Choices - exploring the responsibility for looking after friends and others on the road and the importance of the police role in looking after the community.
Other sessions reflect on personal risk factors of being a passenger and a driver and their contribution to safe driving.
The relationship between speed and stopping distance is demonstrated and strategies to anticipate and accommodate others sharing the road, and protecting vulnerable road users are developed.
The most compelling session is the crash survivor talk - you could have heard a pin drop in our local courses as Lucy described her crash. This science teacher and masters student failed to give way at a one lane bridge and crashed into an oncoming car.
Her old seatbelt didn't retract and she flew through the windscreen. Her injuries included permanent loss of vision in one eye, and multiple injuries in her right side. She now has a lot of metal in her body and she walks with a cane.
Lucy had economised when she bought a cheap, low star-rated car - a decision along with her driving decisions that she now regrets. Lucy battled back from her injuries after almost two years' rehab to tell her story to her spellbound students.
The RYDA course has consistently had great feedback from participants. Ninety-six per cent of the 973 classroom teachers surveyed believed RYDA should be compulsory for senior high school students. Three months after the course, 91 per cent of the students said they apply the things they learned at RYDA as a passenger or a driver.
That is why it is puzzling that the New Zealand Transport Agency has taken so long to give its stamp of approval in confirming that "RYDA meets all the road safety education to either acceptable or ideal standard."
This official approval, received two weeks ago, is further affirmation about how well RYDA fits into the territory of making us better and safer drivers.
We need to acknowledge, as well, the huge voluntary effort that goes into delivering road safety in our community.
Rotary members have developed and continue to support the programme in every locality it is delivered.
There are voluntary facilitators, teachers, parents, caterers and general event co-ordinators who make RYDA happen. Our roads are safer as a result.
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.