Learner driver RBT program passes major milestone

More than 2000 learner drivers have attended a course that guides them through RBT stops – and gives them an opportunity to approach police about the rules of the road.

An Australian-first learner driver program that guides novice motorists through random breath-test stops, gives them an opportunity to approach police about road-rule questions – and explains the importance of giving way to emergency vehicles – has passed a major milestone.

Established five years ago, the learner driver program run on Sydney’s Eastern Creek Raceway was attended by its 2000th student last night.

The free once-a-month courses – booked-out months in advance – are designed to give learners an opportunity to get familiar with their car at safe, road-legal speeds, and away from other traffic and impatient road users.

The Australian Racing Drivers Club donates free access to the racing circuit once a month, under strict supervision and away from tail-gating drivers.

A year ago, the program began being supported by the NSW Police Traffic and Highway Patrol, which each month sets up a pretend random breath-testing site in pit lane, to show learner drivers the safe way to approach an RBT stop.

Police also explain to learner drivers when it’s safe and legal to reach for their phone, to show their identification once stopped by police. 

The learner drivers are also able to ask police about any road rule questions they may have.

“This is about giving learner drivers an opportunity to drive at safe speeds on a roadway where there is no other traffic, and then we also guide them through what to do if they are stopped at an RBT site,” said Acting Sergeant Steve Planinic from the NSW Traffic and Highway Patrol.

“We also have other emergency services vehicles here from time to time, to give learners an opportunity to know what it’s like to have an emergency vehicle go past them under lights and sirens, and how they should move safely out of the way.

“That means when an emergency vehicle approaches and goes past them on the road, it hopefully won’t be such a shock, and they will know what to do.”

Police also do speed checks on the evenings – held on the first Tuesday of each month from 6pm to 8pm – even though it’s a race track.

At the start of the night, learners are advised not to exceed 90km/h – the same limit as the road for novice drivers – and warned to take it easy in corners, or risk being sent home.

Although the program is held on a race track, it is focused on learners becoming more familiar with their car at slow speeds, rather than taking racing lines.

“Accidents, severe injury, and death on our roads in the under-25 age bracket has always been disproportionately high,” said Glenn Matthews, CEO of the Australian Racing Drivers’ Club (ARDC).

With the help of police – and Driving Solutions, an advanced driver training firm that teaches all skill levels from learners to racers – the learner driver program aims to give novices a better chance of making it home safely.

“We believe proper driver-training and education is a big step forward in the education of any young learner,” said Mr Matthews. 

“Importantly, there is no deference to socio-economic backgrounds, as these are free events. It is available to all, including families who may not be able to afford driving schools and training courses.”

The ARDC donates the circuit time, Driving Solutions donates its training experts, and NSW Police are there to answer any questions about road safety.

Now in its fifth year, the learner driver evenings are set to continue for the foreseeable future.

The program has been so successful, road safety advocates are trying to expand the program across other parts of NSW and the rest of the country – where there may be a suitable venue available.

“When I grew up, as a learner there was always a lot of empty car parks or quiet streets where you could practice on weekends with no-one else around,” said James Stewart of Driving Solutions.

“But we don’t have those spaces any more, and it’s getting harder for learner drivers to take that first step onto the road before they get enough skills and enough confidence to start blending in with other traffic.

“Hopefully learner driver programs like this will start to roll out in other parts of Australia that can provide the same support.”

MORE: Learner driver evenings at Sydney Motorsport Park
MORE: Our earlier coverage of the learner driver program

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