THEY'RE some of south-west Victoria's newest independent drivers and they're taking the wheel in a long-running campaign to make regional roads safer.
Moyne Shire Youth Council is preparing to hand a bill to the state's Youth Minister Ros Spence, aiming to reduce serious injuries and deaths on rural roads.
A team has developed the bill for YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament in response to issues like potholes, poor shoulder grading, and rough and uneven surfaces on regional roads.
In the last 12 months, over half of Victoria's 228 road fatalities have occurred in rural areas, even though just 24 per cent of the state's population lives outside the metropolitan hub.
Warrnambool's Meg Reuel, 18, wants to reduce the already high risk for new drivers like herself when getting onto the road for the first time.
"Getting your Ps and learning to drive is already so risky. We just want to take away one of those risks," Ms Reuel said.
"If you're driving in a high-risk area, there are so many things that could go wrong, and it plays on your mind. I think about the impact it could have if something were to happen to me or a family member."
The bill calls for a delegated commission within VicRoads to examine and maintain the quality of rural roads using an index to prioritise roads that most urgently require maintenance.
It also proposes working with construction companies to ensure any upgrades are "sustainable and effective".
Eighteen-year-old Andrew Pritchard, also from Warrnambool, knows only too well the risks the roads pose to country drivers after his cousin was last year involved in a serious incident that resulted in her car rolling.
"You'd be pretty hard-pressed to find someone who didn't know someone or hadn't heard of someone who's been in some form of crash on these roads," Mr Pritchard said.
"For my cousin it ended up being mainly car damage and a bit of a fright, but she was on the fortunate side."
Liberal South West Coast MP Roma Britnell said improvements to rural roads could reduce the cost of living for all Victorians.
Ms Britnell, also state opposition rural roads spokeswoman, said transport businesses had told her of the rising costs from truck fleets needing major and frequent repairs.
"Those costs get passed straight onto the cost of living, and during a pandemic we should be doing everything we can to streamline things, not make things more expensive or difficult," she said.
"It's the government's responsibility to not only ensure the safety of the community who are on those roads, but that products get to their destination as safely and as efficiently as possible."
She also criticised the state Labor government for being "disinterested" in regional areas over the long-term.
It comes after a 2018 inquiry into VicRoads' management of country roads highlighted the "poor quality" of the rural and regional road network, and the need for more funding to maintain and improve it.
A Department of Transport spokesperson said they are focused on building "safer, smoother and stronger roads" right across the state.
"We have been delivering a record amount of road maintenance ... including the most recent $425 million regional road maintenance blitz which rebuilt, repaired and resealed more than 1500 kilometres of roads across regional Victoria in 2019/20," the spokesperson said.
"On top of our massive road maintenance package, we're also improving safety on some of the state's highest-risk regional roads by installing road safety infrastructure that is proven to save lives."
The YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament is a program designed to give young Victorians, aged 16 to 25, a chance to advocate for an issue they are passionate about.
Since the program was founded in 1987, more than 30 bills have gone on to become state legislation.
- Lee Robinson is a member of the 2020 YMCA Youth Press Gallery.
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