Traffic Offenders Intervention Program: Dangerous driving, the harsh realities

IN IT TOGETHER: Sue Pillans with friend Tracey Curran. When Sue was involved in an accident Jimmy Barnes was one of the few people she remembered.
IN IT TOGETHER: Sue Pillans with friend Tracey Curran. When Sue was involved in an accident Jimmy Barnes was one of the few people she remembered.

The results of dangerous driving decisions might be confronting, but a statewide program aims to change the mindset of offenders. The Traffic Offenders Intervention Program is often recommended for people who face court for driving offences.

It's an educational and experience based program with factual and challenging sessions on road safety and low-risk driving behaviours.

The program addresses the impacts of risky and illegal driving behaviours.

It is delivered at more than 60 locations across NSW, including in the Central West and Orana regions.

Speaking from personal experience

AMONG THE MEMORIES: Sue Pillans was given the opportunity to meet Jimmy Barnes, as he was one of the only people she remembered after the accident. Photo: SUPPLIED

AMONG THE MEMORIES: Sue Pillans was given the opportunity to meet Jimmy Barnes, as he was one of the only people she remembered after the accident. Photo: SUPPLIED

IMAGINE waking up from a coma after two-and-a-half months and the only things you can remember are that you like Jimmy Barnes music, that you go for the Manly Sea Eagles and you know how to make scones.

That was the reality for Central West woman Sue Pillans after she was involved in a serious car accident in 1987, aged 19.

Sue and her best friend Tracey Curran, 16 at the time, were passengers in a car which crashed on Inch Street, Lithgow.

Sue, who wasn't wearing a seat belt at the time, was flung through the windscreen and hit a telegraph pole.

"When I came out of my coma I didn't realise who my mother was, who my father was, who my sister was or who my daughter was, but I knew I went for Manly and I knew Cold Chisel, Jimmy Barnes," she said.

Sue had to learn how to speak again, but as soon as she heard the song Flame Trees by Cold Chisel she could sing the song.

When I came out of my coma I didn't realise who my mother was, who my father was, who my sister was or who my daughter was, but I knew I went for Manly and I knew Cold Chisel, Jimmy Barnes.

Sue Pillans

Sue became involved in the Traffic Offenders Intervention Program (TOIP) 11 years ago, to tell her story in hopes that it could save someone's life.

Sue said she was passionate about talking at the program.

"As long as I can help people, and make them realise this can happen, because my right eye will never open and I still haven't got my smell back, I can taste but can't smell, and I can't retain memory very good," she said.

But Sue has no memory of the accident.

"I can't remember it, I just go off what people told me happened, which is what I do with my talk," she said.

Tracey has only just recently begun to speak about the traumatic night that changed her life, joining Sue for her talks only two years ago.

"I never knew it affected Tracey this much, she couldn't bring herself to talk about it, and I told her she saved my life, which she did," Sue said.

IN IT TOGETHER: Sue Pillans with her best friend Tracey Curran 30 years after the life-changing accident. Photo: CIARA BASTOW

IN IT TOGETHER: Sue Pillans with her best friend Tracey Curran 30 years after the life-changing accident. Photo: CIARA BASTOW

"If I had been sitting normally, I still wouldn't have been wearing my seat belt because apparently I hated seat belts, but I would've been cracked down the front of my face, and they wouldn't have been able to save me but because I was looking at Tracey I copped it down the back of my head."

Tracey said the scene of the accident was horrific.

"She shouldn't have survived."

Incredibly Sue did survive, but some things had changed.

A couple of years ago, Sue went deaf in one ear and when she went to see a specialist they told her it was a delayed reaction to the accident.

Sue said the toughest part about her memory loss was losing the memory of giving birth to her child.

After the accident Sue fell into a deep depression, not being able to do what she used to be capable of.

If we didn't step into the car that night, our lives would be so different.

Sue Pillans

"I don't anymore because I am helping people, it took away the depression," she said.

TOIPs has had a major impact on both women.

"By the time I walked out of my first talk I felt good, I felt sad, hurt, loss but I thought if she [Sue] can do it, I can do it with her because that's my best friend and I need to do this," Tracey said.

Tracey said while there are some people who are affected by the story, others are not. The duo say even if they can impact just one person, that is a life saved.

Tracey said they take part in the program to make sure other community members don't do the "stupid" thing they did.

"It doesn't just affect the person behind wheel, but those in the vehicle, family and friends," she said.

Sue and Tracey said they would love to take their talk to high schools, to talk to students who will be going for their licences.

"If we didn't step into the car that night, our lives would be so different."

Program is about getting drivers to face reality

THE Traffic Offenders Program might be confronting for some participants, but so are the results of dangerous driving decisions, according to one of the men associated with the program in Bathurst.

David Hitchick, from Bathurst PCYC, which runs the course in Bathurst, said the goals of the program are to increase the understanding of the factors associated with illegal and dangerous driving behaviour and give the courts credible sentencing and rehabilitative options.

As well, the aim is to ultimately create safer roads for all drivers.

Mr Hitchick said the PCYC has provider approval from the Department of Attorney General and Justice to run the program.

"The Traffic Offenders Intervention Program is recognised as an educational program that offers the courts a sentencing or pre-sentencing option which serves to reduce illegal driving," he said.

"The program consists of various sessions designed to increase awareness of the dangers and consequences of dangerous and illegal driving practices and to promote insight into the individual circumstances."

The Traffic Offenders Intervention Program is recognised as an educational program that offers the courts a sentencing or pre-sentencing option which serves to reduce illegal driving.

PCYC club manager David Hitchick

He said participants completing the program cover seven topics as part of the course content: driving facts, alcohol and other drugs, victims of road trauma, the legal system, the accident scene, the police force and consequences of crashing.

Mr Hitchick said participants are warned that some video presentations shown in the course are of a graphic nature, but were in reality the result of people making poor decisions on the roads.

He said Bathurst PCYC was lucky to be able to call on experts in their field who live in the area.

"We've got amazing contacts living in the area, people like [road safety expert] Matt Irvine and all the emergency services, highway patrol, paramedics and the SES, all of whom have been part of our course," he said.

"We've also got a victim of road trauma survivor, who talks about how the crash has impacted her life and what has changed because of it."

He said the course works to change the way offending drivers think.

"They no longer think they were unlucky to be caught; they are exposed to a very different reality of what could have gone wrong, and they start to appreciate how lucky they are," he said.

"It's not just about losing your licence, it's about if you drink and drive, you can hurt or kill someone, and you can end up in jail."

Less recidivism after completing program: Solicitor

WHEN a client comes to him to talk about their PCA matter, solicitor Angus Edwards says he always recommends they undertake the Traffic Offenders Program.

He said in his 20-plus years of representing people on drink-driving matters in court across the state, those who complete the program are far less likely to re-offend.

"I always recommend the course to my clients," he said.

"I find recidivism rates are far lower in clients who complete the program compared to those who haven't.

"Through the program, clients meet with police, ambulance and lawyers, and they hear the horror stories about what can go wrong."

Mr Edwards said the benefit of the program is it changes offenders' mindset.

I find recidivism rates are far lower in clients who complete the program compared to those who haven't.

Solicitor Angus Edwards

After listening to what the experts say, he said, they start to realise that things could be a lot worse for them than getting caught by police and put before the court.

He said he finds the program particularly valuable for younger offenders.

"I think it makes them better drivers," he said.

One area of concern for Mr Edwards is the recent change to drink-driving legislation where drivers, including those in the low range, automatically lose their licence for three months instead of going to court.

Mr Edwards said the new legislation means these drivers won't have the benefit of participating in the Traffic Offenders Program, and won't appear before court, which he believes is a significant deterrent to re-offending.

"Only time will tell, but being put before the court is one of the biggest deterrents there is."

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