The little blue car making young lives safer on the road
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