The lit­tle blue car mak­ing young lives safer on the road

Monthly Chronicle - - Front Page - Jenny Bar­lass

We’ve all seen the lead-footed teenage P plate driver show­ing off to his mates by rac­ing other cars off at the lights. Or the newly qual­i­fied girl P plater tex­ting her friend while she ne­go­ti­ates peak hour traf­fic.

It’s these risk-tak­ing be­hav­iors which re­sulted in the sad death of Philip Vas­sallo in 2015, in a car crash in which both driv­ers were red ‘P’ platers. This ter­ri­ble tragedy prompted his fam­ily to start the Blue Datto Foun­da­tion, which has vis­ited over 20 schools in­clud­ing Loreto and Knox in 2017 de­liv­er­ing its driver-safety mes­sage.

“Philip was ‘the kid in the Blue Datto' - his beloved blue Datsun ute - and was a much-loved teenager who brought hap­pi­ness to every­one who knew him,” ex­plains his mother Colleen Vas­sallo, a re­mark­able woman who’s de­ter­mined to find some­thing pos­i­tive to come out of this unimag­in­ably aw­ful tragedy.

What Blue Datto teaches is a skillset most young driv­ers are sadly lack­ing, borne out in the fig­ures: from Au­gust 2016 to Au­gust 2017, 73 young adults aged 17 to 25 were killed on the state’s roads, with 2,479 were se­ri­ously in­jured dur­ing a sim­i­lar pe­riod.

“Blue Datto’s mis­sion is to change the cul­ture of young driv­ers and save lives by al­ter­ing at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iours by pro­vid­ing in­dus­try-lead­ing driver ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams to stu­dents aged 15 to 18, and ini­ti­at­ing road safety con­ver­sa­tions with young Aus­tralians, their fam­i­lies and their wider com­mu­nity.”

So far 220 lo­cals kids and 2,320 from all over NSW - mostly L platers or younger - have been through the pro­gram, which teaches kids things like how to get a speed­ing driver to slow down, with­out seem­ing “un­cool. It’s about teach­ing them to say other things than: ‘I’m scared’. They can say: ‘I think that’s an un­der­cover po­lice car over there’, for ex­am­ple.”

But the Hawkes­bury-based char­ity gets no Gov­ern­ment fund­ing (un­less they've been suc­cess­ful with a grant ap­pli­ca­tion) and re­lies to­tally on do­na­tions; its mis­sion cur­rently is to find busi­ness spon­sors so it can carry on with its valu­able, life-sav­ing work.

The Keep­ing Safe pro­gram was de­vel­oped by Aus­tralian road safety ex­perts and is de­liv­ered on-site at schools, com­mu­nity and sport­ing groups. To keep it real and not too class­roomy, there are fea­tures films, role plays, in­ter­ac­tive ac­tiv­i­ties and lively pre­sen­ta­tions from NSW Po­lice and NSW Fire and Res­cue Ser­vices.

“It’s an anal­y­sis of travel safety risks by the stu­dents. It also ex­am­ines the good and bad in­flu­ence of fam­ily, friends and the so­cial en­vi­ron­ment on the choices they make - like friends in cars egging on the driver to go faster, or pas­sen­gers telling the driver to slow down or not an­swer their phone when it rings.

“We pro­vide kids with prac­ti­cal skills and skills to help them make in­formed de­ci­sions to keep them­selves and their pas­sen­gers safe, learn­ing how to speak up and act­ing rather than stay­ing si­lent.”

Learn­ing the vi­tal skills for driver safety

A typ­i­cal les­son starts with peer work­shops with men­tors, fire and safety pre­sen­ta­tions, kids analysing safety risks, then a real life case study in­volv­ing a year 12 for­mal event in which two peo­ple died - with every­one ex­am­in­ing how it could have had a dif­fer­ent out­come.

“Fi­nally stu­dents write their pledge on how they can keep them­selves safe on the roads and we email it to them on their birth­day ev­ery year for five years. The feed­back we’re get­ting shows they are un­der­stand the con­cept we are try­ing to get across.”

One stu­dent who at­tended the pro­gramme re­cently com­mented: “When I had my 18th birth­day I made sure every­one who was drink­ing had a place to spend the night un­less a par­ent was gonna (sic) pick them up, so there was no ex­cuses for peo­ple put­ting them­selves or others at risk on the road. I have re­ally found Blue Datto to be a great in­flu­ence on how I see driv­ing. Thank you for your pro­gram and mak­ing our roads safer.”

Philip with his par­ents Colleen and Joe at his Year 10 for­mal

Blue Datto vis­its Knox Gram­mar in Wahroonga

Philip Vas­sallo in his beloved blue Datsun

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