A vision to save young lives

Rob Wells, father of Bryce Wells and publicity officer for Southern Cross LADS (front), with fellow Southern Cross LADS members (l-r) secretary Donna Jelsma, president Don King and committee member David Hill.

Rob Wells, the father of one of the four teenagers killed at Broken Head in October, says if a driver education centre in Lismore can save just one family from enduring the same ordeal, its worth the effort.

The four families of the boys and a number of local professionals recently formed a not-for-profit organisation called Southern Cross LADS (Learn About Driving Skills) to establish a driver education centre for L and P-plate drivers.

While the tragic death of Bryce Wells, Corey New, Mitchell Eveleigh and Paul Morris was the catalyst for the project, the committee is quick to point out that many other young people have also lost their lives on Australian roads. And they believe its high time something was done to reduce the teenage road toll.

Rob is now focussing on making the driving centre a reality and says that working with Southern Cross LADS has helped him heal and turn his grief into something positive.

Im channelling my anger into energy to get the centre up and running. People can empathise with you, but you can never imagine what this feels like until it happens to you, Rob said. Through this centre, our boys legacy will live on in the community forever.

Southern Cross LADS envisages the centre will include a training track simulating the conditions of country roads as well as classrooms for theory work. The centre would offer stand-alone courses for individuals and they would also invite driving schools to use the facility.

Corey News uncle David Hill says they are now lobbying the government to subsidise the course so it doesnt cost teenagers a cent. He said anyone would be welcome to use the centre, but people holding a full licence would have to pay.

The long-term vision of the group is to ensure every teenager in Australia undertakes a free driver education course before they get behind a steering wheel.

We want to make the driving course compulsory if teenagers want their L-plates then they have to do the course, said David. We eventually want to make that mandatory Australia-wide and we see this as a pilot for that. The highest rate of teenage road deaths in Australia is between Tweed and Grafton, so this is the perfect place to start.

David said it is crazy that novice car drivers only have to sit a written test to get their L-plates, whereas young motorbike riders have to complete a two-day course.

We dont want to take away teenagers rights but at the same time we have to ensure they have the basic foundations to be safe drivers, David said. Some of these kids think they are bullet proof I was the same at that age and we have to change those attitudes.

Corey News aunty Donna Jelsma says the course would also include basic training in mechanics so teenagers have an innate understanding of how a motor vehicle operates before they start driving.

A car is a lethal weapon, said Donna. The more people know and respect how it works, the better.

The concept has already gained national media attention, and as a result Rob was this week asked to attend a public meeting in South Australia to discuss the project. He was invited by a community in the Barossa Valley where several teenagers died in a car crash some years ago.

Southern Cross LADS is now trying to raise money for the project, and hopes to attract corporate sponsorship while also holding ongoing fundraising activities.

David said the support shown by the community has been overwhelming, with unsolicited donations from a number of locals already. Trenches Solicitors has also offered pro bono legal work and David says further down the track, when plans for the centre are finalised, they will be calling for volunteers as well as financial and in-kind support.

While there is no concrete timeline for the project, David says they are working as fast as they can to get the centre up and running.

We realise this is not going to happen overnight, but were in for the long haul, said David. This is not just about a group of families who are hurting its bigger than that now. Its just such a shame that it took so much devastation to get us all off our backsides.

The next meeting of Southern Cross LADS is on February 5. Stay tuned for further developments.

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