Thursday, September 25, 2008

The rules of the road...

The day was going chaotically to begin with. Herding two children through a busy shopping mall, dealing with somewhat incompetent customer service people, convincing a two year old that coffee really is for adults only were just the beginning of a list of hurdles we seemed to be coming across. In the late afternoon, we were making our way to visit some family members in another part of the city. Along the way we had an unfortunate impromptu meeting with a P-plater. The meeting came in the form of a car accident--a result of the P-plater not yielding when making a right hand turn at a busy intersection. Fortunately, no one was injured, but for the rest of the day, the green P plate displayed prominently on the other driver's car windscreen (that's Aussie for windshield) was burned into my consciousness as I replayed the vision of said driver's SUV hurling towards our mid size car and my small children in the backseat.

What's a P-plater? For those non-Australian among you, a P-plater is a driver who is driving on a probationary license. They are called "P-platers" because they must display a "P plate" in both their front and back windscreens. This allows other drivers on the road to be aware of their probationary status and presumably to take care when driving around them on the road.

Which driver's have a probationary license? Generally the people who are driving on a probationary license are new drivers. The system here in Victoria is the following: You are eligible to apply for your learner's permit when you are 16 years of age. Once you obtain the learner's permit, you must complete 120 hours of supervised driving practice. If you are under age 21, you must have your learner's permit for 12 months before applying for a probationary license. You must also display your yellow L plates in the front and back windscreens of your car.

There are other restrictions that apply to L-platers, as learning drivers are called, and these include having a licensed driver in the car with you at all times (interestingly, the licensed driver must have a BAC--that's blood alcohol count--of less than .05), having a BAC of zero themselves, not being able to use a mobile phone in any capacity (hands free or otherwise) and the list goes on.

Once an L-plater reaches 18 years of age and they've met the requirements for practice hours, etc they can then apply for a probationary license. This means they get to trade their L-plate for a P-plate.

In the past, the probationary period has varied. When the Handsome Australian's brother number 4 applied for his license sometime at the beginning of this decade, the probationary period had just been changed from 2 years to 3 years.

Now Victoria has gone to a graduated licensing system in which P platers have to go through two stages of P plates. The first stage is the red P plate which the probationary driver must be on for a full 12 months. If they have a good driving record after 12 months, they will graduate to the green P plate which they must be on for 3 years. Both of these P plates have similar restrictions: you must have a BAC of zero any time you are driving the car, you mustn't use mobile phones while driving, etc. Any alcohol related infractions while you have your probationary license, and you will most likely have your probationary license suspended and your probationary period extended by six months for each infraction.

What's the point of all of this? The idea is to protect young drivers (who unfortunately make up a disproportionate percentage of the road toll) by placing strict rules upon them until they've matured a bit and have had several years of driving experience.

Does it work? I don't know how the statistics have played out since they've implemented the program. What I find intriguing though is the fact that these drivers must display their status in their windscreen making other drivers on the road aware of their relative inexperience as drivers. What kind of dynamics does this knowledge lead to on the roads?

Stay tuned to find out...

Learn the Lingo

windscreen = windshield

P plater = probationary driver

L plater = learner driver

BAC = Blood Alcohol Count


Annelise said...

Both informative and interesting...

Sorry about your fender bender (American lingo for a small bumbing of cars), that really suck ass (that is my lingo for that is awful).

LOL, not sure if you will public post this one as you seem to edit me upon occasion. Just kidding with you HAM (that is my new nickname for you Hot Australian Mom).

Love ya!

suzinoz said...

Thanks Annelise and I love my new nickname! Very cute.

Maddie said...

Hi HAM! wow - so much more sensible than the American way of helping kids learn to drive (hand them the keys and say "Go for it kid - Mom's taking a nap.")
I can't imagine how mortified my teen girl would be if she had to have a bright yellow sign in her window! (and the L here would stand for Loser, I am afraid!) Right now she's mad at me because I won't let her and her 16 yr old friend drive over 45 miles at night to a football game with a bunch of other crazy teens. I think we should move to Australia.
Heard about a book recently that made me think of you : "The Anglophiles" - a guide to understanding the Brits from an American expat view. Much like your blog. Maybe you should think about a guide!!!

Dana said...

Glad that the little ones were not hurt. Thank goodness for car seats and seat belts.

ibbabs97 said...

I am sorry to hear that you had a bad day. I have had a bad week but we won't go into that. Hope you didn't get much damage to the car and hope the kids didn't get scared.

Scintilla said...

I went all through that in Oz when I got my licence. Them I moved to Luxembourg and there seemed to be a lot of learner drivers around with their L plates. Then I realized that L was for Luxembourg.

suzinoz said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll check the book out.

I love your L story! That's really funny.

kannedoyle said...

Sicilla has a lot stricter laws than here in the US for learners. Wish it were different though, everytime I see my 16 yr old sister exting while she drives.