Seventeen-year-old Brittany Armstrong has been racing speedway since she was 14 and knows what it's like to mix it in a male-dominated field. And now, thanks to her talent for storytelling, she's in Canberra with other young people voicing their opinions in the adult-dominated halls of Parliament House.
Brittany, who is in Year 12 at Casino High School, wrote a story about her life as a female speedway racer for the ABC's Heywire competition, which provides a platform for regional youth to tell their stories and express their aspirations and ideas. Her story was chosen as a winner from 700 entries and she is currently attending the 2012 Heywire Regional Youth Summit with 33 other 16-22 year olds from country areas.
Speaking to The Echo from Canberra, Brittany was busy working in the transport group, looking at issues related to the licensing requirements for L and P plate drivers.
The Heywire winners have spent the last few days working on policy proposals around the issues raised in their entries, from transport and education to mental health, small town survival, agriculture and more.
"We discussed how we think there should be a nationwide law about learner and provisional licence requirements… With so many P platers in crashes, and the road toll being so high, we feel young drivers are not taught as much as they should," Brittany explained. "They need to be educated about road conditions and different situations that occur in real life.
"I'm passionate about it because I think the 120 hours (required driving practice for L platers) is ridiculous - it's not how much time we spend gaining the experience it's how we gain that experience. I believe speedway has made me a better driver because I can spot hazards and know what to do in certain road situations.
"We're suggesting a trial of a defensive driver program before you get your licence and we should have programs in schools where people from places like the RTA come and talk to students."
Brittany said it was fantastic to be able to pitch ideas to politicians about what young people would like to see changed in rural Australia.
"It feels great that someone is actually listening to us," she said. "I've enjoyed hearing everyone's stories - they are all really interesting people. They have big voices and are really passionate about making a difference and I think that's really exciting."
In her competition entry Brittany spoke about her love of speedway, something she has been involved in since she was 14, following in the footsteps of her father and older brothers, who are champions on the quarter-mile dirt track of Lismore Speedway. Nerve-wracking at first, she has come to love the sport, and while she hasn't won a race, her objective is to beat the boys.
"I wrote about speedway because it's not a sport that's promoted hugely around our area and I love the family atmosphere - families watch it, families race in it, it's very bonding and so much fun. Once you start you don't want to stop," she said.
As she wrote in her winning her entry, "You might have doubts about a teenage girl driving speedway, but my dad doesn't. He is determined to make a racer out of me, and he may just get one."
To see Brittany's entry, visit abc.net.au/heywire.
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