Pupils' added rules of the road

14th March 2008 at 00:00
Parents in Banchory are driving a hard bargain, negotiating contracts with their 17-year-olds about use of the family car. They hope it is the key to reducing road deaths

Road crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds in Scotland. Now an Aberdeenshire school has launched an initiative that aims to ensure fewer families will be told the heart-breaking news that a son or daughter has died in a traffic accident.

At Banchory Academy, contracts are being drawn up between senior pupils and their parents, setting out ground rules for driving. Break the rules and use of the car may be withdrawn indefinitely; drive sensibly and, where appropriate, rules may be relaxed and privileges associated with when and where they use the car may be given.

Parents are being encouraged to personalise how the contract works for their family and to brave any theatrical sighs and eye rolling which accompany negotiations. Studies show that teenagers with lenient parental driving restrictions are more likely to have more traffic offences and crashes.

The initiative was the brainchild of Sue Tanner, a member of the Banchory Academy parent-teacher association and parent council, and it has the full support of the school and Grampian Police.

PC Matt Smith, who works with the school on road safety, welcomes the innovative approach. "It's good to see parents becoming involved, because we think that road safety education begins at home, and the ethos of the contract is that parents are very much involved."

The school's Safe Teenage Drivers Campaign suggests rules about wearing seatbelts, drug and alcohol abuse, curfew times and limiting passenger numbers.

The reaction of students is predictably variable: "It's the sort of thing my mum would like and I would hate," one sixth-year says.

Graham McDonald, the depute headteacher, explains: "It arose out of a genuine concern for the safety of young people, that when they have passed their test or, indeed, when they are passengers in a car, they behave in a responsible fashion.

"The need for an initiative of some sort was brought into sharp focus this time last year when, tragically, one of our pupils was killed in a car crash."

Ms Tanner describes how the idea came about. "My son had just started to drive and I was very concerned that I wanted to be part of the discussion on how to help him become a safe driver."

After doing some research on the internet, she says, "I actually wrote a contract with my son and we went through it. It helped us both. It taught me about the dangers and it made him very aware of what could happen and what could go wrong.

"And, of course, I was at home to monitor it, because he was driving the car from home, not from school."

Following the pupil's death a year ago, the PTA adopted the contract approach on a more formal basis and parents of all fifth- and sixth-year pupils were sent a copy. The guide can also be downloaded from the school's website.

It includes alarming statistics about teenage driving: one in five teenagers has a crash in their first year of driving and the presence of one passenger almost doubles the risk of a fatal crash, compared to a teenager driving alone. With two or more passengers, the fatal crash risk is five times as high as driving alone.

The guide also reminds parents how children will copy their driving habits. "If you don't obey traffic laws, wear a seatbelt, keep cool in traffic, keep to speed limits or stay off your mobile phone, they won't either," it warns.


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