A challenge for young drivers

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A MAJOR road safety initiative aimed at improving the skills and awareness of young drivers is to be held in Ballymoney.

The event which is the brainchild of Ballymoney Road Safety Committee will have as its main focus newly-qualified drivers, principally Upper and Lower Sixth students.

With support from the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, it is one of the biggest challenges undertaken by the Road Safety Committee whose chairman, Mr. Sam Knox, believes it could have far reaching consequences in helping reduce the carnage on Ulster’s roads.

The Safe Driving event will take place at Dalriada School on Wednesday March 6 and will involve driving skills for sixth form, ‘R’ and full drivers.

Those taking part – estimated to be around 40 – will be asked to take on an observed road route drive, manoeuvrability tests. Equipment to test reactions and the use of driving simulators will also form part of the day’s proceedings.

The idea for the event was prompted by the death of 17-year-old Shannan McCracken, a pupil at Dalriada who was on her way back home from a friend’s house in Ballymoney in July 2009 when her black Renault Clio collided with a tree on the Bann Road.

Shannan was a promising A-level student and her death left her family and many friends devastated.

Indeed, a subsequent television advertising campaign featuring her father Paul, a police officer, and her mother, Diane, brought home the devastating consequences of the tragedy.

Mr and Mrs. McCracken have endorsed the Safety Committee’s plan and will be at Dalriada on the day to present the prizes to the winners of the driving challenges.

Mr. Knox revealed that the Committee are also hoping to present Dalriada with a shield or cut glass in memory of Shannan to serve as a reminder of her contribution to the school and of how her loss had been widely felt.

In relation to the Safe Driving event, Mr. Knox said the single biggest killer of 15 to 24-year-olds in Northern Ireland was road crashes.

Mr. Knox, a Director of the Road Safety Council for Northern Ireland and someone who has worked tirelessly in the local Road Safety Committee, said he hoped those taking part on March 6 would take away the message encouraging them to take their advanced driving tests.

He said Northern Ireland was an ideal place to undertake a pilot study of young drivers.

“If we could persuade the DoE to sanction some form of secondary or primary test two years after drivers had their initial examination the set-up cost would be between £100,000 and £150,000 but if that saved one life, it would mean a further saving of £1.8m. which is what it costs when a person dies in a road accident,” Mr. Knox said.

He added: “Passing a driving test doesn’t make a young motorist fully qualified. There’s no tuition on night driving, motorway driving, driving in ice and fog. It’s a fact that one in three newly qualified drivers will have a collision within the first two years of being on the road.

“We will be teaching defensive driving skills on a professional basis. It is a unique opportunity for young people.”

In tandem with the event, a road safety exhibition will be held in either Dalriada or St. James’s Church hall.

And a further initiative by the Committee will involve safe motorbike riding likely to be held at Biesty’s on the Portrush Road.

Mr. Knox and his committee have put a great deal of effort and commitment into the event and have gained sponsorship from local businessman, Basil Knipe and Frankie and Benny’s in Coleraine.

Some great prizes including a set of alloy wheels, mini ipad, a fee paid for IAM advance driving course, PSNI skid pan experience, portable Bluetooth wireless speaker and a meal for two at Frankie and Benny’s are on offer.

Mr. Knox expects the demand for the event to be high and is liaising with Mr. Tom Skelton, principal of Dalriada to make sure that those taking part are committed.

The event is free to enter but participants will need a car, driving licence and a copy of insurance. The car must also be roadworthy.