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Farmers call for drop in driving age

Charlotte Verley, 17, and sheepdog Bob on her family farm near Boort. Picture: PENNY STEPHENSSeventeen-year-old Charlotte Verley has been driving for years – around the family farm that is, doing jobs with the ute, or sometimes driving around the property just for fun.
Nanjing Night Net

She learnt to drive a manual at about 13 or 14, which meant shemasteredusing a clutch and gear changes at a slightly older age than some of her friends.

Like many Year 11 VCE students she has a busy schedule, with school five days a week, a part-time job in the nearby town of Boort in northern Victoria, plus sport training and dancing during the week, followed by competition sport on the weekend. Mum and dad do plenty of country driving on her behalf.

When her Boort hockey and netball teams play against Sea Lake, the drive from the family’s sheep and cropping farm at Boort is about 135 kilometres, a one-way trip of about 90 minutes.”Away” matches against teams from Birchip and Donald are closer, but not much. Their sports grounds are about a 90 kilometre, one-hour drive from home.

Because of the wide range of transport difficulties facingyoung people in the bush – a place where trams and smooth city bike-paths are non-existent – Charlotte believes the minimum age for a Victorian driver’s licence should be lowered from 18 to 17.

It’s a view shared by the Victorian Farmers Federation, which recently called for the change in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry examining the probationary driving age.

“Reducing the probationary driving age would reduce the impact of isolation and disadvantage caused by distance from employment or training and the lack of public transport services available in rural Victoria,” itsaid.

“If you could drive at 17 you would be more independent, you could get yourself around,” CharlottetoldThe Sunday Age.

“I think 17-year-olds are just as mature as 18-year-olds and still have the experience.”

While she lives only a few kilometres from town, Charlottesaid it was harder for other 17-year-olds who lived further away from Boort.

“If they want to get a part-time job it discourages them. It makes it hard on the parents, who obviously have to take them and pick them up, which is a big ask,” she said.

“I think people in Melbourne don’t really realise how hard it is for us, because they sort of have public transport right at their doorstep.”

According to information provided to the inquiry, Victoria has the oldest minimum probationary age in Australia, at 18. All other states and the ACT have a minimum probationary age of 17, while the minimum age in the Northern Territory is 16.5 years, the inquiry has been told.

But the push by the VFF is facing strong resistance. The TAC and RACV have made submissions opposing a lowering of the probationary driving age to 17.

The RACV said: “Lowering the licence age to possibly assist a very small number of young people gain employment would likely result in considerable increases in road trauma and is not justifiable. A more effective solution would be to encourage both state and local governments, as well as employers, to provide better transport options to enable young people, especially those living in rural and outer metropolitan areas to take up employment opportunities.”

The TAC said Victoria had a strong graduated licensing system that had “a safety benefit for young drivers. Fatality rates for young people in Victoria are lower than in other Australian states.”

Dropping the licensing age to 17 “would result in an increase in road trauma due to both increased exposure and the higher risk associated with driving at this younger age. An additional 192 fatal or serious injury crashes among 17 and 18-year-old drivers are estimated to occur every year if the licensing age were decreased to 17 years. Total injury crashes would be expected to increase by an additional 646 crashes per year,” the TAC said.

Chairman of the VFF’s Young Agribusiness Professionals group (YAPs), Sam Trethewey​, said the inability of country kids to get their driver’s licence at 17 was “a massive disadvantage. They’re playing sport, they’re wanting to meet with friends, they’re wanting to work. Keeping in mind there’s not a huge amount of centralisation in country areas. It’s not like town where everything’s central and mum and dad can drop you off on the way to work. Everything is decentralised and there is no public transport. So I think it’s really vital that we give these kids every opportunity to build their networks or get jobs.”

– The Sunday Age

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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