RSE News – RYDA celebrates 20 years

Issue # 38

Welcome to RSE’s online News. In this edition we celebrate 20 years of delivering RYDA’s essential road safety messages to high school students, wrap-up our National Road Safety Week activities in Australia and New Zealand and share some interesting results from our student surveys.

In this issue – scroll down or click to jump ahead:

RYDA turns 20 – education across the generations
National Road Safety Week paints the town yellow
RSE finds parents modelling distrubing behaviour


RYDA Turns 20 – Education across the generations

2001 was a red letter year in many ways – digital television arrived in major state capitals across Australia, Fellowship of the Rings won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, Australia mourned the loss of cricketing great, Sir Donald Bradman and the world watched on in horror as the twin towers fell in New York.  For many these events feel like they happened yesterday when in fact, they were a generation ago.  Another important thing happened in 2001 – a road safety education program for teens, now known as RYDA turned a serious need into sustained action.

We sat down with some of the founding members of the RYDA program – all Rotarians with a long history of volunteerism in what was then Rotary District 9680.  We asked the three founders, RSE’s CEO/Managing Director, Terry Birss and Directors, Paul Pixton and John Loughlin to reflect on RYDA’s humble beginnings and the years since.

RYDA began, as unfortunately many road safety initiatives begin, after an horrific crash that claimed the lives of four teenaged boys in Dural, NSW.  Paul Pixton remembers, “one of the boys who was killed was my next-door neighbour.  Anthony had babysat for our kids; we’d seen him grow up and it was just really disturbing.  It still disturbs me 20 years later”.  He continued, “we felt powerless and he wasn’t the only one.  There’d been a series of deaths of young people and it just seemed that nothing was getting better”.

John Loughlin recalled a number of other serious crashes that had deeply impacted the community and talked about his personal connection at the time, adding “I had four boys and one girl (at or approaching the learn to drive phase) and most of their contemporaries had been involved in a crash.  My eldest son had a minor crash on his first solo drive.  It was like we had a tsunami of stuff happening.  I had always been involved with youth in Rotary – working with schools and we (Rotary) just had the ability and the opportunity to do something.”

Terry Birss added, “It seemed from looking at the environment that there was an absence of proper, effective education in relation to understanding personal risk and safe driving.  There was a vacuum”.

John summarised the early success of RYDA as a combination of good funding, good people and good support coming together to address a need.  Terry added that Rotary attracts people from private enterprise who are particularly good at making things happen – identifying the issues, the resources and leading the solution.  In their favour was strong support from the community, local governments, police and schools who looked to Rotary to lead a change.

When asked why a community group took on what might be considered a government problem, Paul credited Rotary for the speed with which their response happened.  “With those four deaths as the catalyst, if it had been left to Government it would have taken more than a year.  We went into our first meeting not knowing what would come out of it.  It was there we discovered U-turn the Wheel (an existing Rotary program which gave RYDA it’s early model).”  John added, “we held a very targeted community meeting of professionals in the related services.  At the end of that meeting, everyone said ‘something must be done’ and left.  We knew that if we didn’t do something, that would be the end of it.  The people who came to that meeting didn’t have the capacity to put together a program.  They weren’t experienced in doing community work.  They were all paid employees.  After that meeting, Rotary were left behind and we started investigating [our options].”

“Talking to teachers, we learned that their head PDHPE teachers had been trained and given Department resources, similar to the content we were looking at providing.  What teachers told us, and continue to tell us, is that they are time poor and can’t do everything.  They found that often, the teachers trained to run the modules would move on to other schools, leaving some schools with no one to deliver the messaging.  Principals told us in the early days not to create a solution unless we were prepared to do it over an extended and maintained period in a way that suited the curriculum.  Therefore, the drive was in the committee all along that if we didn’t intend to persevere, we should not start.”

Those early conversations led the committee to engage with the NSW Department of Education, the (then) RTA and various other professional organisations to lay the groundwork for RYDA to be built on a foundation of best practice evidence. This support included the RSO from the Hills Shire who, along with her Council, remains a great supporter of RYDA in the Hills District on 20 years on.

At the four year mark, it became evident that to ensure RYDA was best practice and to grow its availability, external funding would be required to bring on staff. In collaboration with the Rotary District committee, a not-for-profit organisation (now Road Safety Education Limited) was established and with the help of our first corporate sponsor, BOC, the RYDA program was expanded – first throughout NSW and then into other states and later to New Zealand.

Now, 20 years, 120 venues, countless volunteer hours, more than 33,000 workshop sessions and 650,000 students later we asked Terry, John and Paul what keeps them coming back….

Paul commented that “the need is still there.  We were there at the grass roots level and I get a thrill out of seeing all the advances that have been made – additions like our Advisory Council”.  John added, “As a builder, I build stuff and see the project through.  We haven’t finished building yet and it needs the support of people who have the history and know where we’re come from and have a good clear vision of where we want to go.”

For Terry, “I like the idea of building a sustainable business to support a great community cause  – we’ve taken an idea and turned it into something viable – the biggest and (if I might add) the best road safety educator of youth in Australia and New Zealand.  Hundreds of programs with good intentions have come and gone.  I want to keep building a business which reflects the best of ideals and standards so we are sufficiently resilient to consistently put our arms around the community and hug them.”

From the RSE team, we thank the ‘original’s’ – Terry, John, Paul, the formidable Doug Rose and countless other Rotarians who were there at the beginning for the strong foundation they built under the RYDA program.  Further we thank the hundreds of Rotarians who have followed in their footsteps to make RYDA happen across rural, regional and metropolitan Australia and New Zealand.

We know that in 2021, scattered in the crowd of students listening to the opening addresses at RYDA workshops, eagerly waiting for a hint of what they’ll learn during the day are the sons and daughters of some of our 2001 students.

We also know that scattered in the crowds at movie theatres, shopping centres, uni lectures and working in the hospitals, schools, businesses, creative arts and all the fields that make up our community are people who would not be here without the life saving tools they were given at RYDA.


Many things have changed over the past 20 years but our goal remains the same – to make sure every young person is provided a safe road to their future.  These students were kind enough to share their plans with us:


National Road Safety Week paints the town yellow

Once again Governments, businesses and communities have joined forces to raise road safety awareness during National Road Safety Week (NRSW).  The week was a great success from Australia to New Zealand with iconic structures lit in yellow, social media boards buzzing with energy, 40,000+ pledges to Drive So Others Survive and yellow ribbons and stickers proudly displayed on vehicles.

RSE’s own community once again jumped behind the initiative with our Corporate partners not only promoting NRSW to their staff and customers but actively engaging their teams in activities designed to help them be the best road users they can be.  As part of the week, RSE hosted a new webinar, “Teaching a Learner Driver” which was offered to staff and friends of our partners.  The webinar saw great participation from parents keen to learn more about, not just helping their children pass their drivers’ test but helping their children become responsible and safe road citizens.  They say it ‘takes a village’ and that is certainly true of the learn to drive journey as you’ll read in our article below.

In New Zealand, we joined the official launch of Road Safety Week (coordinated by Brake) and marked the event with the presentation of our 2021 NZ Supporting Excellence in Road Safety Awards.  Congratulations to the following recipients: Henderson High School (Bridgestone School Award), Wendy Hooper & Rachelle Borsteinas (NZ Steel Facilitator Award) and Freya Kerr (BOC RYDA Champion).

Following in the footsteps of RSE’s Ambassador, Peter Frazer, the Yellow Ribbon Alliance in New Zealand have, this year, added to their collection of yellow icons.  We’ve gathered a few photos of iconic structures glowing for road safety across both countries.

Summing up road safety week, Peter Frazer said: “I am extremely proud that we have been able to create this week-long focus on preventing death and serious injury on our roads, and I am so grateful for each organisation that got behind our campaigns this year, because like us, they recognise that everyone has a right to get home safe to their loved ones, every day, with no exceptions.”

RSE research finds parents modelling disturbing behaviour

Every year, RYDA undergoes extensive student and teacher evaluation, along with evaluation resulting from road safety research, Government safety goals and input from our Advisory Council.

This year, as part of our student surveys, we not only wanted to know what they had learnt from the RYDA program but what challenges stand in their way when applying the strategies they take home.  We found that one of the big obstacles they have to overcome in taking on new perspectives and setting new goals for themselves is making different choices to those that have been modelled for them throughout their lives.

If you have children, we have some scary news for you – your children have been noticing the choices you make behind the wheel from the time they were big enough to see over the dashboard.  If you’ve broken the rules along the way, they’ve seen it.  They’ve seen any quick stop light glances at text messages and heard you taking and making calls; they’ve watched you yawn on a long drive and they’ve noticed you push on to the destination.  They’ve felt the car pick up speed as it approached an orange light and seen the speedo pass the limit when you’ve been in a rush.  Every road rule they saw broken, legitimised the action for your children and helped them see it as an acceptable behaviour.

Of the nearly 1,800 students we surveyed across Australia and New Zealand:

64% of students said they had been a passenger and noticed a parent distracted by their mobile phone while driving
39% said they had been afraid for their safety when a family members was driving (vs 31% who said they’d been affraid when a friend was driving)
39% had noticed that their driver was experiencing fatigue
29% been a passenger when the car was travelling too close to a cyclist or pedestrian; and
38% had noticed their parents driving too close to the car in front

Modelling can be a hard thing to undo but it’s not impossible and it’s never too late to start. Here’s a list of positive things you can do to model great road safety behaviour for your children, from the earliest possible age.  Let them see you:

  • planning your trips
  • maintaining your vehicle
  • making sure you’re always fit to drive
  • always resisting distractions
  • responding calmly to traffic situations and other road users
  • not only following, but supporting the road rules and the role of police

If they see that, by the time they come to RYDA, our messaging and strategies will be a natural extension of the norms they have come to know and respect.