Casey celebrates 15 years of safe driving

The two new cars with Noelene Duff PSM (far right), Alyssa Byrne (middle), Irene Luchtwark (fourth from left) and Hatsady Sathongnot (second left). Picture: ETHAN BENEDICTO.

By Ethan Benedicto

The City of Casey’s learner driver mentorship program celebrated its 15th anniversary on Tuesday, 16 April, unveiling two new vehicles to aid the program’s capabilities.

Provided by the Berwick Motor Group, two Kia Ceratos graced the plaza at Bunjil Place, adorned with a red ribbon.

Joined by representatives from the Department of Transport, the Transport Accident Commission, the Berwick Motor Group and other members of the council, Casey’s chair of administrators Noelene Duff PSM heralded the anniversary as a milestone for the city’s support towards the young people in the local community.

“The City of Casey is very proud to have been part of this program for such a long period, and in particular we are currently supporting 60 learners, and that is an enormous number of young people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn to drive,” Ms Duff said.

The Transport Accident Commission’s (TAC) L2P program is a community-based initiative that was developed to assist eligible young Victorian learner drivers who are between the ages of 16 and 21, and who do not have access to a supervising driver, to gain the required 120 hours to qualify for a probationary license.

In its 15 years of operation, there have been 250 people who have obtained their P plates through the city’s program, an achievement that Ms Duff said meant that “not only do we have 250 safer young drivers on the road, but it’s also the path to independence”.

“Particularly in the City of Casey where we’re great advocates for trying to ensure there’s better public transport, but it’s a very big city and it’s very difficult to negotiate long travel times on public transport so having access to a vehicle is really a means to education, to employment, etc,” she said.

The program matches those eligible with a fully licensed volunteer mentor driver who will not only assist learners obtain their required hours but grant them the exposure and experience needed to safely navigate the city’s roads.

For Ms Duff, the volunteers serve as the backbone of the program. She said the council and her are “so thankful to the volunteers who are here today”.

“The issue we have of course in the City of Casey is so many members of our community are new to Australia and perhaps do not have people that have the confidence or are willing to help them to learn how to drive.

“So the volunteers that have been part of the program, many of you for such a long time, are such a valuable resource and we know that you become ambassadors for the program, you become the advertising to encourage other people to participate.”

The program is funded by the TAC and administered by the DTP, which then the City of Casey coordinates for the local community.

Hatsady Sathongnot, a DTP representative who spoke during the event said that the initiative is more than just a licensing program, where when asked by his children, said that he helps “make other kids have the opportunity that you kids have to make their lives better”.

“For us it’s not about the numbers, it’s changing someone’s life, giving them that foundation to better themselves, and this program is what that’s about – making them a safer driver, teaching them to be good citizens.

“And hopefully they impart that knowledge and their learnings from this program onto their kids and their friends, to have that influence in society and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day,” he said.

One of the volunteer mentors Irene Luchtwark and her student, Alyssa Byrne, were also present during the event, with Ms Luchtwark recounting her experience with Ms Byrne as “absolutely brilliant”.

“The buzz of seeing a new driver morphing from a nervous or dangerous and overconfident one into a confident and competent driver is what I’m here for.

“It’s also really nice when we can stay in contact and see how they develop and how theirs and our investment is paying off, and it is an investment, it takes time and dedication and nerves, a lot of calm energy and a good dollop of humour to be there from fledgling driver to obtaining 120 hours,” she said.

The celebration ended with all event attendees gathering at the plaza, where Ms Byrne had the pleasure of cutting the ribbon on the two new vehicles, officially making them part of the TAC L2P program.