The Free Press (Corowa)
Cool Heads returns to Rutherglen
A popular driver safety program returned to the region this week with 120 senior students from Corowa and Rutherglen learning about the devastating effects of road trauma.
With drivers between the ages of 16 to 25 at the highest risk of being killed or seriously injured on the road, the Cool Heads program was launched in 2008 to help young people make important decisions about their attitude to driving.
Students heard confronting and impactful stories from those who have been directly or indirectly affected by road trauma including Rutherglen Sergeant Brian Curran, Wodonga Local Area Command Inspector Paul Hargreaves, Don’t-text-n-drive founder Vicki Richardson, local cricketer Jarred Hatton and Rosalia Cikaitoga.
Ms Cikaitoga was the first guest speaker to address the students recounting her emotion- al and gut-wrenching experience waking up on the side of the road after blinding sunlight caused her to collide with oncoming traffic, killing another driver in 2012.
Ms Cikaitoga still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression as a result of the accident but uses her experience to remind young drivers that they are not only responsible for their own life behind the wheel but also their passengers and other road users.
“The consequences of taking someone else’s family member are worse for you than it is for the family. For the rest of your life, you will have that memory in the back of your mind,” she bravely told the students.
“I’ve come to realise that I am stronger than I was and can do anything I set my mind to. Obviously, it wasn’t my time and I feel the accident was a wake-up call.
“People say to me I was left on this Earth for a reason, and I feel like the reason is to share my message with you.”
Jarryd Hatton also spoke brilliantly in his first presentation with Cool Heads on the ‘event that changed his life’.
At the age of 22, Mr Hatton lost his partner in a car crash which had an enormous impact not only on himself and the family, but also the entire Rutherglen community. Jessica McLennan, a much-loved local nurse, died three days after a collision at Lilliput on June 1, 2016.
Mr Hatton opened up to the students about the accident and the ripple effect it had on the community. He also discussed the risk factors, strategies, and key messages to help educate the young drivers in the room.
“Jess was an extremely lively and bubbly person. Losing her broke a lot of people, es- pecially our community of Rutherglen. The football and netball club, arguably the heart and soul of the community, was left in pieces,” he said.
“The support I received and still do to this day is what got me through the incredibly unforeseen time in my life.
“Don’t think for one moment that it won’t happen to you. Life throws curveballs and nobody is invincible. Be responsible for your own actions, don’t trust other drivers on the roads and be aware of your surroundings.”
Well-known advocate of the ‘Don’t-txt-ndrive’ foundation Vicki Richardson offered a different perspective to the students as she shared her message in memory of her daughter Brooke, who passed away while texting and driving in 2012.
Ms Richardson asked the students to think about how their parents would feel if the police came knocking on the door and told them their child had died in an accident.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that mobile phones are bad and that you’re all obsessed with them. You hear that enough already,” Ms Richardson said.
“Mobile phones provide us with the flexibility to interact with others whenever we want, but we need to look at the issues created when we use phones in the wrong places. We need to learn from Brooke’s mistake.”
Ms Richardson also relayed her concerns about the increasing number of drivers using mobile phones.
“The age of children using phones is getting younger and younger. What worries me is these children are going to have free range of mobile phones for years prior to getting their driver’s licence. We are then going to put them in a car and tell them not to touch it,” the primary school teacher said.
“Are you prepared to never see your parents, or any other member of your family again? Are you prepared to never grow old or have a family? Are you prepared to have your mum crying by your graveside on Mother’s Day wanting you back? Trust me, it is not worth it.”
As Ms Richardson wrapped up her talk, she made a surprise announcement to the Cool Heads committee.
“Now that governments have made it illegal to use mobile phones while driving and it is a chargeable offence in all states, as a foundation we decided we don’t need to be a financial charity anymore. Today I would like to donate $10,000 to the Cool Heads program,” she said.
After a rapturous round of applause, Sergeant Brian Curran graciously accepted the cheque.
“I would like to give a huge thank you to Vicki and the foundation. The money will be put to good use to get the message out to young people in local community and region,” Sgt Curran said.
The impactful seminar, supported by Federation and Indigo Shire Councils, was well received by the local high school students who thanked speakers for sharing their stories.