One of the driving forces behind safer roads begins with driver responsibility.
This view forms part of an innovative campaign to help reduce the number of serious accidents on the roads of Donegal, which is being spearheaded by Gary Doggett.
Gary is the coordinator of the ‘Pro-Social Driver Programme’ based in Letterkenny.
Along with programme facilitator, Martin McFadden, they have been working over the last year to create a realistic and effective programme that allows motorists and driving offenders to gain an insight into how their driving behaviour and attitude can often be major factors in incidents of road rage, dangerous driving, and driving under the influence of either drink or drugs.
Originally from County Meath, Gary has enjoyed a variety of occupations including being an army photographer and construction worker, before he returned to higher education a number of years ago.
He also lived in Holland for several years before coming back to Ireland and moved to the north west where his mother and sister now reside.
“Of course, when I left there was a recession and when I came back there was a recession,” he explains, adding “but I saw the recession as an opportunity to do something different and I didn’t wish to do construction work all my life either. I was lucky that I had the experience of being around different people. I like people and I also studied to be an IT tutor and got a qualification with that also. But I did my main studies, my degree (in Community Development) in LYIT and I found it very interesting in areas like criminology and re-offending, why people re-offend.”
His academic efforts paid off and he left the college with a top class honours degree.
He has been looking at various projects including the area of prisoner rehabilitation but joined forces with Martin to establish the Pro-social Driver Programme as a way of helping those who take the course to understand the responsibility required by all road users when they get behind the wheel.
“The course came about a couple of years ago,” Gary explained. “We were approached by representatives in the criminal justice system in Letterkenny because it was getting to the stage where the term ‘boy racers’ was being used an awful lot unfortunately.
“We don’t like that term ourselves but it is quite obvious in Donegal there are issues around dangerous driving. We were approached to see if there was a possibility of putting together a programme to see if it would help address this issue, particularly using education as a tool to try change the attitudes of people.”
The courts refer some motoring offenders to the courses and others sign up voluntarily.
It is accredited and participants receive a certificate of completion at the end, but only if they finish the course.
“We used research that most addressed the issues we felt were most important. This study is based on three large bodies of research that looked at traffic research, criminology and psychology. All these studies identified personal factors being the main issue involved in dangerous driving. A lot of the time it was social attitudes more than driving skills. So we looked at that to see if we could change the way people think.”
Some of the factors they identified was the change we are all capable of making when we step into our cars. These changes, he points out, are often behaviour people would not tolerate in other areas of life, such as accepting bad manners or aggression.
“It’s funny what changes take place when we step into that small metal box,” Gary added. “We speak to lads about this and it’s like we get all territorial and you completely change your attitude and the way you behave towards other human beings. One of the scenarios we give is imagining your walking down the street behind someone, maybe an old lady for example, and you can’t get past her. You wouldn’t dream of shouting and screaming at her or anything like that. But once in the metal box, that changes so we decided to look at this and work around it.
“We have broken the areas down into four modules. Each of the modules takes place over a three hour period carried out at the weekends or in the evenings.”
Gary says the change some of the participants experience is quite remarkable when they learn to understand the level of responsibility required to get behind the wheel of a car.
One of the keys to arriving at this point is that all participants have to engage with the course providers. They cannot simply attend the course and leave with the certificate. In turn, Gary says, the organisers are not there to judge each participant but simply to engage with them to establish their existing attitude to different areas of driving
“We don’t want people to think we are standing there lecturing at them. The point is, we explain that it is not seen as a get out of jail card. We would hate the programme to be seen as that and you have to work to get through it,” he adds.
He says many participants are often surprised with how much they learn when they do the courts.
Gary and Martin would like to acknowledge the assistance of the Congress Resource Centre, Garda Inspector Michael Harrison and Judge Paul Kelly.