30 November 2022

Val's wish realised at last: ACT to offer free first-aid training to learner drivers

| Lottie Twyford
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Learner drivers will soon be able to take up the offer of a free basic first-aid course. Photo: File.

Learner drivers in the Territory will soon be offered a free first-aid course to make up five hours of their requisite driving hours.

The 30-minute course will be optional for now but the ACT Government is pledging money towards research to find out whether the course should be mandatory.

It’s an initiative launched following calls from Canberran and Senior Australian of the Year Val Dempsey for young people to be skilled in first aid as they learn how to drive.

The online course is being run by St John Ambulance Australia, and while it won’t be mandatory, the Government will “encourage” it as part of the Graduated Licensing Scheme.

Chris Steel

Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said the Government would investigate whether the course should be mandatory. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Five hours off learner drivers’ requisite 100 hours of supervised driving will be offered to those who complete the course.

Transport Minister Chris Steel said the course would provide new drivers with basic first-aid skills to respond to road injuries if they’re the first on the scene at a road traffic collision.

“This training won’t just provide the skills that could save a life, it is a reminder to the next generation of drivers of the serious consequences that crashes have on our roads,” Mr Steel said.

The Government will also fund the Queensland University of Technology to undertake a formal evaluation of the course, with $45,000 from the ACT Road Safety Fund.

The evaluation will explore the potential for the first-aid course’s expansion across Australia and whether the training should be mandatory to complete for all learner drivers.

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Mr Steel said the program wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment and advocacy from Ms Dempsey.

“Over many years, Val has advocated saving more lives through first aid – and today marks another step towards her goal.”

Further information about the reduction in mandatory supervised learner driving hours would be made available in the coming months, Mr Steel said.

Val Dempsey was awarded Senior Australian of the Year for 2022. Photo: Supplied.

Ms Dempsey said she couldn’t think of a stronger incentive for learner drivers to equip themselves with these basic, lifesaving skills.

She’s been advocating for the change for years and has previously described its implementation as a “no-brainer”.

Road safety is personal for Ms Dempsey whose daughter Michelle was involved in a car accident in which she couldn’t save the passenger.

“I don’t want to see anyone else having the same feelings as those people who stopped and wanted to help at my daughter’s accident. I can’t possibly imagine how that must’ve felt,” Ms Demspey told Region in January.

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Road safety has of course been at the forefront of government decision-making this year.

It’s now well-reported the Territory has this year recorded the highest number of road fatalities in more than a decade.

Many of these victims were young and speed is understood to have played a factor in the majority of these deaths, ACT Policing has confirmed.

An inquiry into dangerous driving is underway and the Government last week introduced stricter penalties for some offences and sought to close various legislative loopholes.

But it has continued to resist calls for a wholesale review of sentencing and the Bail Act.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury told the ACT Legislative Assembly on Tuesday (29 November) that specific elements of bail were being reviewed but a wholesale review was not needed.

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