For those of us living in the city, simple things like having a driver’s licence can be taken for granted. But for those living in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, it can be the path to a better future.
In new data presented today at the Australasian Road Safety Conference in Canberra, researchers from The George Institute for Global Health analysed DriveSafe NT Remote, a program designed to help those living in remote communities to gain access to a driver’s licence. Established in 2012, the program currently relies on a team of six who work in 74 communities across the Northern Territory teaching people how to drive. Since its inception, the program has delivered around 3200 learner licences across the Northern Territory and around 1200 provisional licences.
People with a driver’s licence were four times more likely to be employed, and they were twice as likely to be educated.
Lead researcher Professor Rebecca Ivers believes equipping a person with something as simple as a driver’s licence can help address social inequality. “We found with some research we did in South Australia and NSW that people with a driver’s licence were four times more likely to be employed, and they were twice as likely to be educated,” Professor Ivers tells SBS. “For many people, a driver's licence is a qualification. If you don’t have any other skills, a driver's license is essentially a qualification for a job, if you want to work for a council, or you want to work as a ranger.” Other benefits of driver's licensing programs include reducing the risk of crash and injury for new drivers, better access to health services, and reduced incarceration rates.
In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 84 per cent of the prison population and programs such as these can help reduce incidences of gaol time by preventing people from driving without a licence. “You get picked up a few times, and very quickly that’s a very serious offence. It’s a really important thing that needs to be addressed." While it’s difficult to measure the direct correlation between driver’s licence access and incarceration rates, Professor Ivers says “it’s certainly something that’s likely to have a big impact.”
A key driver behind the program’s success is community participation. “It’s got to be delivered in a way the community wants. The program seems to be very flexible and culturally responsive. The team go out and engage very well with the community,” says Professor Ivers. “And that does make a big difference that they’ve got the support of the community.”
According to today's findings, community members also see the value in the program. “It might mean that a lady who might have kids, a young lady might not go to gaol because her husband makes her drive but she hasn’t got a licence or something,” said one interviewee in the report. “So the kids get to keep their Mum, she doesn’t go to gaol.”
It just means more opportunity, more bus licences, you can get kids to and from things and the teachers feel they’re important.
Others see it as a way to provide more opportunities to young people. “It’s an opportunity for the kids so they don’t miss out,” one community member said. “It just means more opportunity, more bus licences, you can get kids to and from things and the teachers feel they’re important.”
Professor Ivers hopes that eventually enough people in these remote communities will have driver’s licences that the program will no longer be necessary. “Once you’ve got a certain number of people in the community, you have other people around to teach. It’s in the short term, when you’ve got 10 registered cars for 300 people that these programs are important.”
Ultimately, programs like DriveSafe NT Remote are critical in closing the gap, Professor Ivers says. “People think it’s not relevant to social determinants or to health but it really is a big driver of employment, education and incarceration. It's really something that has to be taken seriously.”