Teens learning to be safe drivers
Director at the Road Safety Unit (RSU) in the Ministry of Transport and Mining Deidre Hudson-Sinclair (right) distributes the road code test to students at the St Jago High School in St Catherine. The test, administered by the RSU and the Island Traffic Authority (ITA), is a requirement for the granting of a learner's permit. (Photo: JIS)

High-school students across the island are being taught safe and responsible driving before getting behind the wheel, through a Learner Driver Education Programme being undertaken by the Road Safety Unit (RSU) and the Island Traffic Authority (ITA).

Education/information officer at the RSU Dontae Matthews, said that the programme seeks to introduce road and vehicular safety information to students, particularly those who are at the age of eligibility for a learner's permit.

"In some parishes, some students are driving illegally. I found out just the other day when I visited a school, that some students are driving their friends' or parents' cars. What they do is park it down the street or at somebody's house and come to school, and you find that they don't have a learner's permit or a licence," he pointed out.

"So, what we're doing now, the Island Traffic Authority and the Road Safety Unit, [is] we're equipping these schools… that have reached out to us, to now better be able to teach students road safety and vehicle safety," he said.

Matthews said topics such as defensive driving theory, drunk driving and getting the learner's permit are areas covered under the programme.

"The big thing is actually how to get the learner's permit because there are a lot of changes under the Road Traffic Act, in regard to how a person acquires a permit," he noted.

Recently, several students from York Castle High in St Ann received learner's permits after successfully completing their road code test. The school developed a driver's education curriculum with the assistance of the HEART/NSTA Trust and RSU.

Matthews said that students at Jonathan Grant High in St Catherine sat the road code test on March 15, and the RSU will be taking the education programme to Little London High School in Westmoreland on March 24.

"We also have other schools that have reached out to us, such as Fern Court High in St Ann [and] Green Island High, Hanover. Other schools have been reaching out, not necessarily to do the test yet but to have the road safety and vehicular safety session to tell them about the learner's permit, the processes, things like that. So, we have, like Hampton School in St Elizabeth; they have reached out too," the education/information officer stated.

Matthews said that for schools to benefit from the initiative, they do not need to have an existing driver education programme.

"It would be good if they have it, because at least they would have started. For example, Jonathan Grant already has a mechanics class… and then for York Castle, they have a driving instructor on campus that teaches the course. For Little London, what they are aiming to do is to set up an auto club, so, on that day, they'll be launching [it]," he said.

Highlighting the importance of the programme, Matthews said of the 488 fatalities last year, young people accounted for the highest with more than 160.

"We find that young people are the ones that are doing the fast driving, the ones that want to impress their friends," he pointed out.

He further cited the high number of motorcycle fatalities in Westmoreland as a reason to launch the programme at Little London High.

"Little London is a hot spot for motorcycle fatalities. So, when I go into the schools and talk to them about road safety and vehicular safety… we're talking about the implications of not wearing your helmets, not wearing other protective gear such as knee pads, shin pads, helmets, and riding in shorts, slippers, and things like that," Matthews said.

"It's very important that we get the message out as early as possible. We let them know what they can and cannot do with the learner's permit. For example, a lot of persons still don't know that they have to do a road code test before you get the learner's," he noted.

Under the new Road Traffic Act, a road code test must be taken to be granted a provisional driver's licence or learner's permit.

To obtain a permit individuals must be at least 17 years of age and must have had no road/traffic convictions in the last 12 months.

Applicants will be required to set an appointment to sit the multiple-choice road-code test at driverslicence@mtw.gov.jm, dita@mtw.gov.jm or by visiting any of the ITA examination depots and must obtain at least 75 per cent on the test to be eligible to be granted the permit.

Matthews also reminded individuals of what is not permitted with the learner's permit.

"You can't operate a public passenger vehicle, and for the motorcyclist that is learning to drive, you can't carry a pillion passenger and you have to stick to the speed limit," he stressed.

"We talk to them about the fact that a licensed driver must be [beside the permit holder] in the front seat of the vehicle. So, we're educating them about the process so that they'll be fully aware and also on regular driving tips, the road signs, markings, where you can overtake, and where you cannot overtake," he added.

In the meantime, as the RSU and the ITA continue their thrust to promote proper road use, Matthews said the aim is to have the Learner Driver Education Programme in at least one school in every parish before the year ends.

"Overall, we are committed to ensuring that our young people are educated because we want to see less fatalities," he said.

Teachers, he noted, are also benefiting from the programme, explaining that teachers took the road code test at Jonathan Grant High, and others will be doing the same at Little London.

"So, it's targeting the youth, but the adults are also learning and, in the same breath, we are also educating them on the Road Traffic Act," he said.

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