Road safety, especially as it affects young drivers, is very much the political hot topic at the moment, with calls for rising the minimum driving age and making it harder to get a full driving licence.
Give young drivers better and more advanced training before they can qualify for a full licence, say lobby groups and politicians. And while all this is going on, one of the country’s best advanced driving programmes for young drivers has been suspended – for lack of adequate funding.
The announcement suspending the MotorSport New Zealand-run Prodrive programme came last week, slap-bang in the middle of the debate over restricting the power of cars young drivers can operate, raising the minimum licence age and ramping up training.
More than 50,000 young drivers have completed the Prodrive programme.
“Lack of financial certainty meant we couldn’t provide our staff with the security they were entitled to expect,” said MotorSport New Zealand president, Steven Kennedy.
“The Prodrive Driver Education Trust, which was responsible for operations, has had fantastic support during the past two decades from Toyota New Zealand and Car Haulaways and many other great sponsors who have helped too, but we haven’t been able to replace some key cash funding which means we’re unable to continue.”
Prodrive was free to senior secondary school students, and was steered mainly by former Sports Sedan ace racer, John Osborne.
“We know from all the letters and emails we have had over the years that there are thousands of young, and now not so young, drivers who learned practical driving skills in the programme that have helped them survive on our roads,” Kennedy said.
“Driver education is a step away from the core business of MotorSport New Zealand, but our members believed we could help young drivers learn the art of defensive driving and survival skills on the roads.” He said the programme will be revived if funding can be found.
Among the skills Prodrive taught young drivers were how to control a car in a skid, and how to brake effectively in an emergency and on wet or slippery surfaces. One expert likened Prodrive to an advanced practical defensive driving course, which is exactly the sort of thing we’ve been hearing politicians say is required to help stop the carnage among young drivers.
So why has it not attracted official funding, either in the past or now? We understand there’s a brand of wowserism involved.
People who are supposed to know best didn’t and don’t like the idea of a course taught by motorsport clubs or experienced race and rally drivers. The implication was that such a course would encourage young people to drive fast.
That view totally ignores the fact that Prodrive taught essential skills in car control The practical work was done in a safe, off-road area where young drivers could also discover just how quickly and unexpectedly a situation can turn bad if a driver makes the wrong call.
The wowser approach also ignores the fact that young drivers, especially boys, are almost all going to drive fast at some stage anyway, and that teaching them proper car control will increase their chances of survival.
It seems incomprehensible to us that such a well-run and responsible road safety programme has had to be suspended for lack of funding at a time when politicians and pressure groups are bleating on about the need to improve young people’s driving skills.
We’d like to see the politicians cut off the supply of hot air and put their hands in their pockets, revive Prodrive and expand it to make it an essential part of young driver education.