Spotlight on Aboriginal road safety at The George Institute

(L-R) Dr Kate Hunter; Associate Prof Lisa Keay; Julieann Coombes; The Hon Scott Farlow; Federal Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt; Prof Rebecca Ivers; Courtney Ryder; Bobby Porykali

The results of two innovative Aboriginal road safety initiatives were launched at a special event at The George Institute for Global Health today.

It was revealed that more than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had gained their driving licences after taking part in the Driving Change program, and more than 550 child car restraints were distributed via the Buckle-Up Safely program. Both programs were developed and evaluated by The George Institute in partnership with multiple Aboriginal organisations.

The results were presented at the event attended by the Federal Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt and showcased the achievements of both Driving Change and Buckle-Up Safely, a child car seat program.

Minster Wyatt said the Federal Government was committed to reducing the high rates of road injury in Aboriginal communities.

Minister Wyatt said: “These initiatives are outstanding examples of what can be done with the right approach. As The George Institute notes: ‘Increasing licensed driving and improving road safety in Aboriginal communities has the potential to create huge change – generational change – not just in health but also in human services, justice and other areas of life.’

“The Institute’s conclusion is that a nationally coordinated and comprehensive approach is needed, to promote Aboriginal health and well-being across many policy sectors.

“We are certainly on the road to better Indigenous health and I thank the many communities across New South Wales, and The George Institute, for taking the wheel and leading the way on this important part of the journey.”

The Hon Scott Farlow, Member of the Legislative Council and Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier (Leader of the House) in the NSW Legislative Council, also attended the event. The NSW Government funded both Driving Change and Buckle-Up Safely.

Mr Farlow said:

“Having a licence is a lot more than about driving. It is about participating in society. That is why Driving Change is such a great program."

The event also heard from community workers who relayed how both projects were having a dramatic impact on people’s lives.

It was revealed that Driving Change, which was set up to overcome the significant barriers Aboriginal people face in obtaining a licence, had delivered 3300 hours of driving practice in 11 communities and led to 100 volunteer supervising drivers signing up.

Driving Change participant Florence Dixon, 29, also spoke at the event. Ms Dixon got her P plates this year after attending the Driving Change program run by Weave Youth and Community Services in Waterloo.

She said: “The Driving Change program is a great program and to be honest I wouldn’t have a licence if it wasn’t for Weave and the Driving Change program and the caring supportive volunteers.

“I am proud to say it has helped me overcome my doubts and fears – my life has gone from zero to 10 just by doing the Driving Change program.”

The achievements of the Buckle-Up Safely program, which aimed to increase the number of children who are buckled up correctly, were also highlighted. It was revealed that the program distributed almost 550 child car restraints across 12 Aboriginal communities in NSW, with at least 1053 families receiving the life-saving program.

A further 90 local childhood educators also received a child safety professional development program.  Dr Kate Hunter, Senior Research Fellow in the Injury Division at The George Institute, said:  “One of the reasons both Buckle-Up and Driving Change have been so successful is that they are delivered by community workers and work in partnership with Aboriginal organisations and leaders.”

Professor Rebecca Ivers, head of the Injury Division at The George Institute, said it was essential that the government at both the federal and state level support and expand these programs. “Programs like this address community priorities and change lives. It is critical that we see long term investment and coordinated, multisector support.”

Professor Kathleen Clapham, Professor of Indigenous Health at University of Wollongong and study investigator said: “Improving road safety in Aboriginal communities has the potential to create generational change across multiple sectors including health, human services and justice.”