Garry’s road ahead

HE has 26 vehicles on the road in Tasmania at any one time, around 250 learners at their wheels and beside them, 170 mentors collectively clocking up as much as 2000 hours on the road each month. “They seem like big numbers, but it’s not enough … not nearly enough!” says Garry O’Byrne.

Mr O’Byrne is the state coordinator of Driver Mentoring Tasmania, the peak body representing some 16 member programs that assist in getting learner drivers qualified. “Our waiting list in New Norfolk alone is 84 learner drivers, all champing at the bit to move from their L plates to their Ps,” he says. “And right now, they’re stuck. “Clients we’ve got, and cars we can find,” he adds. “It’s mentors that are in short supply.”

A Learner Driver Mentor Program is a not-for-profit organisation helping disadvantaged learners qualify as provisional drivers. “Learners are making the jump from being dependent to independent, from being disadvantaged to able to fully function in life,” he said. “So the mentors we need are the kind of people able to form a working relationship with new drivers, to help a learner become a ‘P’-plater. “It’s a huge transition, greatly rewarding for both mentor and student.”

In New Norfolk, the driver mentor program is called ‘Drive Time,’ and the operation run by the very capable Lexia Brown. “Currently, Lexia’s got some eight Derwent Valley residents learning with support from four mentors,” he said. “But we need more. We could easily use 20 to meet the demand in the Valley alone.”

The kind of mentors needed are probably retired or semi-retired, looking to help in their community. “And let’s be clear about roles and responsibilities,” he adds. “We don’t teach people to drive … there are driving schools for that. We are there for those who’ve got the basic skills. “Our job is to be in the car, the adult supervision required for those wanting to get from an ‘L’ to a ‘P’ plate.

There’s so much involved in the process of getting a licence these days. “Some people can’t afford lessons, others don’t have a suitable vehicle, and some just need a licensed driver to sit in the car with them. Those are the things we’re there for. Consider us like parents.”

Mentors are licensed drivers themselves, for at least three years and no licence suspension for at least two years. For most, it’s around five to 15 hours’ volunteering a week, sometimes more. Mr O’Byre’s Learner Driver Mentoring Programs, putting together learner drivers with volunteer mentors, is funded by the Road Safety Advisory Council, underwritten by the State Government.

“Each learner needs to undertake a minimum of two lessons with a registered driving instructor. “They sign the student off, ready to enter a Learner Driver Mentor Program. “

For the Derwent Valley, we’d like to have at least 15, but as many as two dozen more mentors,” he said. “If you’ve got a few hours a week,” he adds, “let me know on or call the New Norfolk office on 6261 5230. “And what a reward it is for our mentors,” says Mr. O’Byrne. “We help people get mobile, get on with their lives, and those successes are an everyday reward, the best kind.”