Driving course nearly back on track

Organisers of a drivers’ education course that teaches teenagers to be responsible behind the wheel are hoping to find sponsors to re-launch the classes.

The Cayman Islands Road Safety Advisory Council ran two of the 15-week courses, which involve driving lessons as well as basic car mechanics, at Breakers Speedway in 2007.

‘We want to re-launch it this year and we’re out looking for sponsorship,’ said Greg Rivers, a member of the Cayman Islands Road Safety Advisory Council.

‘This course not only benefits these young learning drivers, but it benefits all other road users as well,’ said Mr. Rivers.

He and fellow organiser Aileen Samuel, chairwoman of the Road Safety Advisory Council, credit the course with helping to cut down on the number of serious road accidents involving young people in the past couple of years.

There are already 76 young people on the waiting list for the next course, if it can get off the ground. In the first class, there were 28 participants, and 32 in the second.

The 15-week course costs participants $75. Mr. Rivers estimated it would need about $20,000 in sponsorship to restart the course.

Claire O’Dea, one of the teen drivers who took part in the course in 2007, said Breakers was the ideal place for it.

‘I feel the environment of the course was what I enjoyed the most. Greg, Aileen and the other instructors were not there to criticise you, but to encourage you and offer advice.

She added: ‘It was nice to have an allocated time per week, which was dedicated to driving and other necessary peripheral skills, including theory, practical lessons and brief demonstrations and explanations on the body and maintenance of a car.’

She advised other teens to take advantage of the course. ‘I know too many teenagers [who] think they can master driving on their own. However, being able to learn from others’ mistakes and questions was very beneficial,’ she said.

Another participant, Shay Miller, was 16 when he took the course and he was so impressed by it, he went back as a volunteer to help out in the second one. His father, police sergeant Trevor Miller, was one of the instructors in the course.

The younger Mr. Miller, now 18, pointed out that one of the biggest lessons he took away from the course was how to deal with peer pressure as a young driver.

‘It taught me how to handle peer pressure when other people are in the car. There would be four people in the car in the course. You’ve always got friends in your car and you want to show off. You learn how to deal with that pressure for the first time driving on a ‘road’.

‘I knew how to drive… I didn’t know how to deal with the whole pressure aspect. Having other people in the car, you want to show off a little bit… When I got my licence and went out on the road with my friends, I didn’t feel any pressure,’ he said.

‘I don’t think kids mean to speed, they are just trying to show off how fast their car is. – plenty of people make mistakes about handling the road. I think that one element alone saved our entire class’s lives,’ he said.

Mr. Miller added that the course meant young drivers could learn on a safe environment off the public roads. ‘The class gives people a chance to actually learn how to drive and handle themselves on the road. They don’t learn illegally by taking their parents’ car, without insurance, and learning on the road.’

He agrees with his instructors that the course may be partially responsible for the decrease in the number of road accidents involving young people.

‘I think that had a lot to do with the accident rate going doing. I just know that it went down dramatically around the time the course was going on,’ he said.

The number of young drivers dying in road wrecks dropped significantly during 2007. Fifteen of the 22 people killed in road accidents between January 2005 and February 2007 were aged 26 years or younger. From March through December 2007, the average age of the eight people who’ve died in Cayman car accidents was just under 40, with two of the victims being younger than 26.

Last year, there were only four fatal accidents, with two involving people aged 23 or younger.

Shay Miller has now been enlisted to help raise funds and sponsorship for the next course and he plans to approach car dealerships and other businesses to invite them to take part.

‘We want people to hear first hand from young people who have taken part in the course how beneficial it is,’ Mr. Rivers said.