February 2, 2013
ON HER way home from work last week, Courtney Moir stopped at her favourite beaches and took photos of the sun setting. Later she went shopping.
No big deal for most of us, who are used to going where we want to, when we want to. For Courtney, it was a special moment marking the transition from a child reliant on others to an adult with a licence and her own car.
In the city you can get by quite easily without being able to drive; in country towns, it can put the brake on work prospects, education, a social life and living the kind of life you want to. For Courtney, a 20-year-old trainee chef living in San Remo, a licence and car add up to freedom.
What made it possible was a year of practice driving sessions with a volunteer from Bass Coast’s L2P (Learner to Probationary) program. The program, which matches mentors with learner drivers from disadvantaged backgrounds, has been running for three years. In that time it has helped 23 local learner drivers get their licence.
These days you have to clock up 120 hours of driving practice with an experienced driver before you go for your P-plates. That’s the equivalent of three full-time working weeks, and includes 10 hours of night driving, time driving in the rain and time driving in the city. It’s hard enough for a family with two parents and two cars to rack up that much practice time; it’s much more difficult when, like Courtney, you’re the child of a sole parent who is working full-time.
L2P mentor Vilya Congreave, who accompanied Courtney for more than a year of weekly drives, found unexpected rewards in her role. One was forming a friendship with someone young enough to be her daughter. Another pleasure was travelling the back roads of the shire and discovering new places. “We saw some wonderful sights,” she says.
They started by driving around the Wonthaggi recreation reserve and only when they were both comfortable did they head further afield, eventually onto the Monash Freeway and as far as Blackburn.
Before she volunteered, Vilya was concerned that she would be out of touch with people of Courtney’s age and out of touch with the new road rules. “After 40 years of driving, I thought I knew it all but that’s where the workshops and training came in. I also realised most people do the wrong thing all the time.”
The principal faults were immediately obvious to both mentor and pupil: drivers failing to leave enough space between them and the car ahead and failing to indicate before turning. Vilya recalls Courtney having to slam on the brakes on a roundabout when someone turned without indicating.
The other hazard was the numerous deep and dangerous potholes that made driving so difficult last winter.
As for Courtney, she got used to Vilya’s tendency to confuse left and right. “Are you sure?” she would ask if Vilya asked her to make a left-hand turn when there was no road.
In the early days, Vilya was all concentration, reading the road ahead for any unexpected event. By the last few trips, she was alert but relaxed, knowing Courtney was a competent driver.
But the crunch came on November 8 last year, when Courtney went for her licence in Leongatha. “I was nervous beforehand,” she said. “But my grandmother’s partner, Graham, said to me the night before, ‘I want you to do one thing. Before you get in that car, say to yourself, “I am a Queen Scout, I can do this”.’
She did, counted to 10 and headed out onto the open road. The tester was poker-faced, giving nothing away. All went well until Courtney tried to parallel park. It brought her undone, as it has brought so many of us undone before her. After her second unsuccessful attempt, the tester told her to head back to the Leongatha depot.
Vilya takes up the story. “Courtney comes back and says, ‘I hit the kerb, not once but twice’. I just said, ‘We’ll book in for one day next week’. I thought that was really important. But my heart was breaking for her. That’s when the tester looked up and said, ‘She got it’. We both did a little jig.”
The tester said Courtney had done everything by the book and that parallel parking was the one skill she would use least. In fact some people – not you, of course, dear reader – are known to drive an extra kilometre or two to avoid the need to parallel park.
For Christmas, Courtney got two Melways – one for the city, one for the country. She bought her first car on New Year’s Eve.
“It still hasn’t quite sunk in,” she says. “The last couple of weeks when I’m driving on my own in my own car I still sometimes think, ‘Is this legal?’.”
The Bass Coast L2P program needs more mentors. Full training is provided. For more information, contact co-ordinator Scott Bugbird at Wonthaggi Neighbourhood Centre, Ph 5672 3731, on Tuesdays or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.