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Safety-savvy pupils hit the road

A new SQA qualification is giving youngsters an insight into the hazards of the highway

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A new SQA qualification is giving youngsters an insight into the hazards of the highway

Watch yourself on that tyre," Sergeant Paul Dodds advises the pupils who are helping him examine vehicles in the car park at Tesco's. "It's so worn the wire is sticking out and it's razor sharp. You could get badly cut."

Getting out and about with friendly members of the local constabulary, as they persuade people to check their cars and stay safe, is a real eye- opener for the youngsters from Castle Douglas High.

"The police were a bit late meeting up with us because they had stopped a drunk driver," says Emily Priddy (S6). "That was at 10 o' clock in the morning!"

Using the speed cameras was fun and fascinating, says Liam O'Shaughnessy (S6). "You point the laser at the car and its speed comes up. Then you take a photo of the number plate and the driver. When we were in the marked car they were flashing each other and slowing down. The speeds we measured were much faster from the unmarked car."

The Safe Road User Award is a new qualification from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, aimed at instilling safety knowledge and behaviour in young people - an age-group over-represented in road accidents. Two people under the age of 25 currently die on Britain's roads every day.

"You get a certificate at the end of the course and when you're doing the theory driving test, you only have to sit part of it," explains Shannon McCartney (S6). "You just do the hazard perception. So that's an advantage."

"It's one of the new wider achievement qualifications," says Sheelagh Rusby, the school's principal teacher of lifelong learning. "This is the first year we've run the course. In delivering it, we wanted to work as much as possible with the local community.

"We talked to Ian Howie, a community engagement consultant and former police officer, who'd worked with the school before, and he and I put the course together. It's about adding value, using the resources that are out there, and making learning more appealing."

Local garages, hotel owners and the police force have been freely sharing their time and expertise this term with course participants, she says. "We even got Mountain Rescue in to give first-aid sessions on instant responses that save lives. We had the mechanic from Kar Care getting them doing vehicle checks and changing tyres out in the playground. They also gave the youngsters a high- vis jacket to keep in their cars.

"We've another garage going to show them what to look for when you're buying a car. Getting out there and finding out what local businesses will do for the school is an important part of my job. If you explain what you're looking for and why, a lot of them offer to help."

The road safety course devised by Mrs Rusby and Mr Howie consists of two 40-hour units that take place mostly in class or in the playground. Today's session, which falls in the middle of Road Safety Week, is different.

"The Safety Forum and the police organise a winter road safety check at this time of year," explains Mr Howie. "It's to alert drivers that conditions are changing and they need to think about their tyres, lights, wipers and washers. This year, for the first time, we've got the pupils on our course working beside the police to talk to drivers and examine their cars."

Other activities planned for this day out of school and on the roads include a visit to a local hotel to check the progress of a high-tech, drink-driving campaign, and an interview for the school radio with Michael McDonnell, director of Road Safety Scotland (see panel).

"I'm a former teacher, so it's good to see what the schools are doing," he says. "I was involved in the development of the road safety award, but I've never seen it taught. So I'm looking forward to seeing it in action."

Back at Tesco's, the action is hotting up, despite the season, and the students are seeing for themselves the sorry state of some cars and the people skills police need when dealing with the public. As uniformed officers wave cars into the cordoned-off area where the pupils wait, their drivers' faces show a range of emotions, with puzzlement and anxiety predominant, but irritation and impatience also in evidence.

"You meet all types when you're out talking to people," says PC Simon Kennedy. "A lot of drivers don't know how to check their vehicles. We check ours once a week."

The next car pulls in and Alice Greenwood (S5) approaches the driver and asks him to turn on lights and indicators. She and her colleagues then walk around the car and report back: "Could we have a little splash of your windscreen washers, please? Now we would like to check your tyres. Yes, they're all fine. Thank you."

"Nae bother, dear," replies local man Brian Lockhart.

"We have got this little goody bag for you, to thank you for taking part," Alice tells him.

"A goody bag - oh lovely," Mr Lockhart says, and drives away smiling.

The next driver is not so happy when she leaves, since young Tabby Briggs (S5) has spotted the parlous state of a rear tyre, and the police have pointed out that three points and a pound;60 fine would be automatic, at any other time. "I'll go right now and buy a new one," the driver promises. "I've never had points in my life. I knew I was nervous about something."

You have to be prepared for all kinds of reactions from drivers, says PC Kennedy. "Some of them see this as an inconvenience. But we are encouraging them to check things that some never think about checking. We get good feedback from the community every year we do this."

Two minutes along the road in Monty's Bar, another group of pupils from the school's road safety class are checking up on a high-tech scheme they helped devise to tackle drink-driving.

"They've designed a poster that will go up on the walls of all the pubs in town," explains Mr Howie. "They then loaded that poster and another one from Road Safety Scotland into a mobile bluetooth transmitter, which right now is behind the bar here. So now if you're having a drink in Monty's Bar, your phone will ask if you want to receive a message from Castle Douglas High. If you agree, you'll get sent the posters on your phone."

The theory behind the initiative, he says, which is backed by the police and the road safety forum, is that messages delivered to individuals from their own community are more likely to change behaviour than national advertising. "It's also getting the message out when it's needed most - while they're actually having a drink."

Pubs often struggle to stay in business nowadays, so resistance to such a scheme might be expected. But the trade is more enlightened than that, says Monty's Bar licensee Eric Montgomery. "I'm happy to have it here. We want people coming out for the evening to plan ahead and get a taxi or organise a lift. We don't want them to drink and drive. Lives are more important than profits."

Having logged in and checked out the Nextgen software that's running the system, PC Kennedy announces that 49 customers have chosen to take the message in the last two days.

"That's good," he says. "This is a pilot, so we'd no idea what the numbers would be. According to the company, around 60 per cent of people contacted in this way through their phones will take the message. It should help. It's another way to get road safety out there."

The plan is to promote the new system around the pubs and hotels, says Shannon. "It won't stop people coming out for a drink. But it should make them think about being more responsible and help cut accidents. We've been preparing the different parts of today in our class for a while. It's going well."

Headteacher David Mitchell agrees. "I've been in post at Castle Douglas High for a year now. When I came, we had been a School of Ambition and a lot of things had been put in place, led by Sheelagh Rusby, that I wanted to continue. So I gave her the responsibility of lifelong learning, skills for life and work, and wider achievement for our young people.

"She went out into the community, made contacts, identified opportunities and developed new courses, including this one on road safety, as well as others on hairdressing and childcare. This is the kind of direction schools will have to go in future, I think.

"Every school should have a Sheelagh Rusby."

Free road safety resources help steer clear of danger

Road Safety Scotland develops resources that are distributed free to all schools. It's a full suite of resources, designed to fit Curriculum for Excellence while delivering its message. So in early years it has recently replaced the Children's Traffic Club, which lasted 15 years, with Go Safe with Ziggy.

For primaries it has Street Sense and administers the Junior Road Safety Scheme. Two recently-developed resources for secondaries are Crash Magnets and Your Call. Hard copies were initially supplied to every school via local road safety units. They are also available online.

Road Safety Scotland is responsible for national advertising campaigns and research into what works. It studies the data, devises a brief and puts it out to creative teams which produce a number of adverts for TV, radio, posters and beer-mats. It then tests these against the target audience - which is all adults, but with a focus on 20 to 29-year-old males, who are still over-represented in accidents.

Filming for a new drink-drive advertising campaign, launched on Monday, took place in Edinburgh recently. The adverts can't be so grim, dark and wet, says director Michael McDonnell, because they would like to use them in summer too.

"The weather often beats us, though," he adds. "Rain was forecast this time, so we started off spraying the car to ensure continuity. It didn't rain at all. So the same guy had to spray the car all day."

Photo credit: Tom Finnie

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