A high-school driver education program that was part of a controversial deal to write off a $126,000 debt owed to Tweed Shire Council by the organisers of the world motor rally run in the Tweed in 2009 sends the wrong message that youngsters can drive safely at speed, some councillors have claimed.
And the education program, targeted at 36 young pre-licence-aged students at three Tweed high schools, is not recognised by transport safety and education experts.
The two councillors opposed to the program for year 9 and 10 students also say the Tweed schools shouldn’t be used as ‘guinea pigs’ for ‘something untested in safety circles’.
The program and the running of a new motorsport event in the Tweed were agreed to by a majority of councillors two years ago as part of the deal to write off an outstanding $126,372.83 owed for track-building works for the final Speed on Tweed event held in Murwillumbah in 2010.
The event was backed by Rally Australia, an offshoot of the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS).
The CAMS ‘Ignition’ driver-education program for students will be run on October 17–18 with Tweed River High, Murwillumbah High and Mt St Patrick College participating, while the ‘CARnival Motorfest’ will be run on Saturday, October 19 at Murwillumbah Showground.
CAMS is liaising with the high schools, local Rotary clubs, and Destination Tweed as well as Tweed and Gold Coast motorsport clubs to organise both events, which were part of the debt deal.
The CAMS backing for the Speed on Tweed event came after the controversial world rally was shifted to Coffs Harbour two years ago following massive protests.
The new ‘replacement’ events for this year were endorsed by five Tweed councillors last week but opposed by Crs Gary Bagnall and Katie Milne in the 5–2 vote.
Acting general manager Troy Green said in his report that CAMS provided similar driver-education programs for safe driving for youngsters at all its major events such as the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Mr Green said the main CARnival event starts with a touring event by the Gold Coast MG Club and a Khanacross event organised by the Gold Coast Tweed Motor Sport Club within the showgrounds, as well as car displays.
He said the event, rather than having ‘a competition focus’, was mostly about ‘laying the foundations for a broad community event attracting members of CAMS and the general public who enjoy motor sports while showcasing the beauty of the Tweed’.
During last week’s debate on the issue, Cr Carolyn Byrne said she supported the driver-education program because it provided ‘structured learning in a safe environment’.
Cr Byrne said her son had taken part in a similar program and in turn had given her a few tips on what she was doing wrong with her own driving technique.
Cr Milne said that while she could appreciate the intent of the program, she was ‘quite disturbed’ by its being aimed at ‘very young people getting behind the wheel’.
She said the program was not officially endorsed by road safety or education experts whose research concluded that such training should be aimed at youth at an age where they were almost ready to obtain their licence.
’It makes a lot more sense to get them closer to when they’ll get their licence and hit the road,’ she said.
Cr Milne said the program also wouldn’t address the problem of youth ‘hooning’, which was significant around the Tweed.
Cr Bagnall agreed, saying if road and transport safety experts did not recognise the program, ‘we shouldn’t be seen as guinea pigs with something that’s untested in road safety circles around the world’.
A high-profile campaigner against the controversial world rally, Scott Sledge, said when the deal was made public last year that ‘the audacity’ of the CAMs offer to Council was ‘astounding’.
‘I wonder how the motor-racing gurus plan to teach driver safety to young speed heads,’ Mr Sledge, who was the main spokesman for the No Rally Group, had said.