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Addressing the need for speed

In a society bereft of community “rites of passage”, young males in particular see gaining a drivers licence and owning a motor vehicle as a mark of the transition from boyhood to manhood.

Owning and driving a car is one of the clearest means of achieving power through independence from the family, and young males demonstrate substantially higher rates of minor accidents, crashes resulting in injuries, and fatal accidents.

In many cultures courage and a willingness to take risks in the face of danger is a requirement of manhood but in Australian society it often takes the lethal form of dangerous driving as young men not only accept the risks of driving, but also seek them out.

When a group of adolescent friends meet together in a car, the elation of the peer group combined with the quest for danger can quickly lead to reckless driving.

The question, “How fast can this machine go?” urges the driver to show off, overtake dangerously or exceed a safe speed round the next bend.

Consequently motor vehicle death rates for under-25s are double those of older drivers and the more young passengers the young driver carries the greater the probability of an accident.

Despite their self-perceptions, young men have below-average driving skill but, as for all motorists, the main problem is not so much the lack of skill as over-confidence, distraction, competitiveness, showing off, aggression, drugs, alcohol and fatigue.

For parents and congregation members keen to exercise their Christian social responsibility for the driving and safety culture in which their young men grow up, the problems are complex but not insurmountable.

Bayside Uniting Church Youth Worker Tim Griggs knows first hand how important this is and is working to make a difference.

After a late night accident involving young people from his youth group, his congregation has some clear policies regarding their youth activities and road safety.

“We have a policy that you have to have an open licence for two years before you are allowed to drive other youth group members on an outing or event.

“If we’re going on an excursion I’ll have a list of who is in each car and who is the driver of that car and we get all the kids together.

“We also have a prayer before we go and say a few short words about respect for the driver and the driver’s concentration.”

Mr Griggs said the majority of young people in his youth group are approaching the age when they would be going for their driver’s licences and it is time to consider doing something intentional about driver safety education.

Congregations cannot wave a magic wand to make young drivers safer overnight and there are no short cuts to experience, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risks associated with young people’s driving behaviour.