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Chat: Mark Kelly

Monday, November 12, 2012

Interviewer: 60 Minutes presents a live interview with driver educator, Mark Kelly.

Interviewer: Mark, welcome to our live online chatroom this evening.

Mark Kelly: Hi everyone, thanks for coming tonight! I hope I can answer all your questions.

Interviewer: Lets get straight into the questions...

mandy asks: Defensive Driver Training should now be an essential to passing your Drivers License regardless of age due to erratic behaviour. What does 120 hours really mean ?

Mark Kelly: I agree, 120 hours is no where near enough. In our experience we've developed up to 30 modules of competence based training that is not going to be accepted by the general Australian public. But we feel there is a lot more to be covered in 120 hours that in fairness parents are not equipped to give to their young drivers.

kazbahs asks: Hi Mark, I worry about alcohol levels the morning after drinking. If I had 6 standard drinks up to midnight, generally would the alcohol have left my body 6 hours later? ie. 6am?

Mark Kelly: It would depend on the time you commenced drinking, it would also depend on your body size and whether you are male or female. As a general rule of thumb, we would expect that around 1 standard drink would leave your system per hour. There needs to be a note of warning with this because not everybody is the same and we always advise a couple of extra hours to be on the safe side.

Autonomy asks: where can the ordinary layman acquire a car interlock device?

Mark Kelly: There are three interlock provides in Australia. They are Guardian, Draeger and Smart Start. While in Victoria these are readily available, in the other states of Australia they are being rolled out. But if you search for any of these names, you'll be able to speak to the people that can help you.

Junior asks: Do you think a drink driving course should be compulsory when obtaining a P plate driving license?

Mark Kelly: Yes I do, there are lots of things to be discussed that aren't covered in the general license test, such as drinking, metabolism rates and general health. Most people don't understand how quickly they can reach 0.5.

Nick asks: How can we subtly recommend a friend to the extra competency based training?

Mark Kelly: It isn't commercially available as of yet, the training has been developed and will be recommended to government. What we do suggest is people take a young driver to a development program, where the parent or supervisor and driver attend together, and pick up the defensive driving skills that we consider are essential. It's a one day program and available through Murcotts Driver Excellence (http://www.murcotts.edu.au)

LukeJ asks: Hi Mark. I personally think the law is too light and lenient, call it slack if you will, on repeat drunk drivers, speeding drivers, etc. Do you agree?

Mark Kelly: There are two schools of thought on this topic. One is that if you really want to change the attitude in drink and speeding drivers, you need a court based program that directs them into further education and training. The other is that you just send them to jail and hope they learn their lesson. The second option has been shown to be a world wide failure. We work closing with the courts that have court supervised programs, and they have pretty good outcomes.

meljab asks: In the area i live in the kids arent drink driving, they are doing drugs then driving, what is the statistics on that. Why when they are doing the drugs are they not getting tested when pulled over late at night.?

Mark Kelly: In the states where the drug testing is being carried out, we're finding that the rate of detection is 1 in 70. That is for every 70 tests, there is a drugged driver detected. Compare that to drink driving, the rate is 1 in 200. The problem we have in the moment is that the drug tests themselves as expensive in the order for $25 a test. The government is funding these fairly heavily but it's still very early days. Another point is that the drug being detected in usually cannabis.

plwhe asks: Would it be at all beneficial to change the legal limit to 0.0? There would be far less ambiguity there. How would such a change be received among the public?

Mark Kelly: Double zero already applies for the first three years of a young driver's licence. It also applied to the drivers of heavy vehicles, or drivers of public transport vehicles and to drink drivers who have already been convicted and relicensed. Imposing double zero on the entire population is likely to be viewed as a very unpopular move, considering the majority of the population handle alcohol and driving responsibly. On the other hand, there is Australian research that tells us every driver who was involved in a fatal crash and had alcohol in their system was responsible for that crash. At the end of the day, it's politically unpopular.

Caddy asks: why can't there be more education in schools, starting at primary and continuing all the way to yr 12

Mark Kelly: Drug and alcohol education in schools is inconsistent, most states have drug and alcohol education at various levels, but we've found that unless it's relevant to the student, the message is lost. In other words, if you're not about to drive a car as a 12 year old, you really don't care about the topic on drink driving. What we are calling for is more drink and drug driving education at learner driver stage.

Harry1 asks: I understand the importance of publicity of drink driving and there should be more but after the story I just watched I need to ask the question of the importance of knowing where your under age children are and what they are doing and who is responsible for them at the end of the day ?

Mark Kelly: Yes, this is a tough one. One of the criticisms of the road safety advertising is that it has more impact on parents than it does on young drivers. young drivers feel invincible, they think it won't happen to them, and they dismiss it fairly quickly. At the end of the day the responsibility lies with parents and supervising adults, and there is a lot of luck involved in keeping your children safe.

Jack asks: Do you think a defensive driving course will help learner drivers as well, not that I am promoting that they should drive at speed?

Mark Kelly: Defensive driving programs are best suited to drivers who have been on the road for at least 6 months. We encourage learner driver schools to cover topics such as hazard perception, and making young drivers understand that they don't see. In other words, vision issues. It's very difficult for a young driver to take in all the important that is presented when they are driving within the first 6 months. The additional problem is that very young drivers only undertake a very small number of lessons with a professional driver trainer. So that means that parents and friends who supervise the learner have an enormous burden to make sure they impart the knowledge in 120 hours.

Nick asks: how much does the interlock device cost

Mark Kelly: On average the device costs $140 to fit and $140 per month, that covers monthly download and recalibration.

patrick asks: Do you think stronger laws will help? I'm sure a complete solution needs to be multi-faceted, but do you think repeat offenders will think again if they might face very long terms in jail?

Mark Kelly: We find that drink drivers are overly optimistic. Research has found that a first time drink drivers who is caught by police has driven around about 400 times under the influence of alcohol. There is already a threat of imprisonment for a second offense of drink driving, and clearly this doesn't deter people. Australia has charged 110,000 drink drivers every year for the last 5 years, and clearly these people weren't deterred by courts or the threat of imprisonment.

brb249 asks: We need every vehicle be fitted with a device that will NOT start if the driver has any alcohol in their system, how we would install such a feature I don’t know but we need to come up with something quickly. Too many people are killed or injured due to alcohol related driving. Lets stop the carnage, bring in harsher penalties.

Mark Kelly: On the issue of interlocks in every vehicle, that matter is currently being investigated in Australia. The contract has just been issued to a research organisation to investigate our ability to fit interlocks in all vehicles. The device would be quite simple, it would only need to be used at the start of the journey and subs and volvos already have the technologies. On harsher penalties, we find that we just create more offenders, and the penalties don't seem to be a difference to the drink driving rate.

charlotte64 asks: Alot of the focus is on young people - particularly boys.. what about girls or women who constantly get into cars over the limit .and drive . seems to be a big issue in the country areas now - particularly during Summer - Peninisula areas that have less police presence yet high mortality /accident rates due to high speeds and wreckless driving. Do you have any advice for friends/teachers to educate them about the consequences..

Mark Kelly: We find the general ratio of men to women in drink driving to be 80/20. Women are generally more reluctant to drink and drive, however there are exceptions and country areas a good example. That is sometimes more an issue of lack o transport issues, than deliberate drinking and driving. When it comes to change attitudes or addressing the issues to life style or alcohol dependence, that's a very tough issue to address and I'm sorry at the moment I don't have any answers.

kay22. asks: Your program is available to repeat offenders. Does this mean a driver has to be convicted twice or more? Could it be compulsory for all drivers ever convicted?

Mark Kelly: Generally in Australia if you were convicted of a drink driving offense, even a first offense, you'll be required to undergo some education and counselling. The program we run targets them at multiple offenders. That program addresses alcohol dependence, social and drug issues and mental health issues. Most states in Australia are running these programs.

Jaye asks: It's just over one year since Ebony died. It's just over one year since teens mourned her senseless death at her funeral. And tomorrow it will be one year since one of those teens, Jake Munro went out in the early hours of the morning with four mates and wrapped the vehicle he was driving around a tree resulting in his death. The grief and funeral didn't get through to him... So how do you get through to teens these days about getting in vehicles.

Mark Kelly: This is probably the most difficult issue in young driver education. Young people generally, and especially young males, feel invincible. And because they haven't experienced road trauma personally it makes it very difficult to get through to them. In some countries some drivers are given mandatory education and training, which involves visitors to hospitals, road trauma centres and even the morgue. We are not convinced that this is the best way to go, but unfortunately we don't actually have a better solution. Putting a mature brain into a young driver, that just doesn't happen.

plwhe asks: When sentencing someone caught by a random booze bus (a case in which no one was hurt), how much consideration is given to how much over the limit the driver was; all things being equal? Is "only a little bit over" still looked upon seriously?

Mark Kelly: It is now, it used to be that a little bit over meant that you were given a caution or a good behaviour bond. Because of the drink driving rate across the country, courts and police are becoming tougher. So for a young driver, they will still lose their licence for between 6 to 12 month for "a little bit over". The disqualification period increases with the VAC. Don't forget, that a first time conviction for drink driving does not mean the first time the person has had alcohol in their system and driven.

Harry1 asks: I think the parent should have been held responsible just as much if not more than the young drink driver, the loss is just terrible.

Mark Kelly: It's very difficult for parents, in Ebony's case she was an innocent passenger who may have made a mistake by getting into the car of a drink driver. But with everyone standing around in a party, and you need to get home, it's over the last consideration.

patrick asks: The story mentioned repeat drink driving has become more prevalent. Are there any theories for this?

Mark Kelly: Repeat drink driving has remained at 30% for many years. It has also been consistent with other countries around the world. The theory is that 70% of drink drivers made a mistake and learnt their lesson very quickly. The drink drivers we are concerned about are the 30% that didn't learn their lessons and more importantly, the 15% who may have alcohol dependence.

brb249 asks: I am also a speaker at the Traffic Offenders Program and their have been some people attending these sessions who just pay the money, sleep through some of the program, do and say whatever they need to do just to get back on the road, they should be made ride with the ambos and police for a couple of Sat nights.

Mark Kelly: Yes I understand your issue. There needs to be a fairly rigours assessment on the traffic offenders program simply because it is too easy. I work closely with courts, and I know magistrates and judges rely heavily on the traffic offenders program managers to monitor offenders. If a traffic offender is not paying attention or goes to sleep during a program, we need to be tough and report that back to the court. That's what the magistrates expect and if you made it clear at the commencement of the program, you can't be accused of unfairness. Riding in ambulance and police cars may not be the answer for a repeat traffic offender, this could simply be an additional thrill.

Autonomy asks: Prior to even being convicted of a drink driving offense, even a first offense, you need to be caught first! So maybe this is where the problem is? Do you really feel that Australian streets are really being patrolled, or is it just on long weekends and other holiday periods that the double demerit points advertisements and the boys in blue appear?

Mark Kelly: In terms of drink driver testing, last year there was 10.3 million breaths tests conducted across Australian by police. About 1/3 of these were conducted through breath testing sites. The remainder were conducted by police patrols, that's an enormous effort and I think Australia has one of the highest rates of drink driver testing in the world.

GIAA asks: Do you believe the reason why young Australian drivers are becoming more complacent is because vehicle technology has improved so much over the years, yet driver restrictions have increased. Perhaps if we teach kids responsibility and how to learn their limitations, drink driving wouldn't be an issue.

Mark Kelly: Two separate issues here, the drink driving issue can be dealt with education. The skills a young driver requires comes with experiential learning. Young drivers need to be exposed to hazards, on the road with a driving instructor. And basically shown the sorts of things that are going to cause them problems, such as poor vision skills, poor hazard perception and poor speed and distance perception. Unfortunately in young drivers, this is a cognitive function and only progresses with brain development.

beezlebob asks: when a driver commits an offence like that, why can't the police take them to the parents house of the person that has just been killed and make them hear the death announcement the police have to make ?

Mark Kelly: Yes, it sounds very appealing. Unfortunately politically it's not likely to get anywhere. The best we can expect is the practice of some courts, where there is a program where the offenders meets the victim's family. But these are still fairly rare.

Flutters asks: You say drivers don't seem to be deterred by the courts or threat of imprisonment - what about the threat they will lose their licence for life? Surely tough measures need to be taken, even if they aren't politically correct. It's about saving lives.

Mark Kelly: In our experience, we find that life time disqualifications don't work. Last year just in Victoria, there were 8700 disqualified drivers detected, which means the actual number of much higher. So sanctions where you impose disqualifications for long periods don't work because generally people think they won't be detected if they are driving carefully.

Autonomy asks: So, in regards to a known individual who does fall into the 15% band of being alcohol dependent, what are the best steps to take so that people in authority will listen?

Mark Kelly: The programs that operate as best practice around the world usually involve the offender being detected and then placed into a program of court supervision, drug and alcohol assessment, education and long term monitoring. If there is alcohol or drug dependence, they are treated but always with supervision of the court. These programs are expensive to run, but have a high success rate. So a person who hasn't been detected needs some guidance through any of the states alcohol clinics, and it could mean a friend contacting those counsellors.

Interviewer: Unfortunately we are out of time tonight. Mark, do you have any further comments before we finish up?

Mark Kelly: Thank you to everyone, I am the president of the Victorian Association of Drink and Drug Driver Services, so if you have any further questions please contact me at vaddspres@ozmail.com.au

Interviewer: This concludes our chat with Mark Kelly, Sunday November 11, 2012.

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