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Close To – Peer Training of Learner Drivers by Offenders in Austria


Some statements from the learner drivers demonstrate how much they were affected by the contributions from the peer educators and their discussions together:

“I have sometimes been driving home slightly drunk but luckily nothing happened. However, since talking with the peer educators, I will never do that again.“

“Before I got my driving license, I thought ‘Why not drive after drinking?’ Since I talked to the peer educators, I now think about this differently. Since I passed my driving test, I have never driven after I have been drinking.“

In particular, being able to get close to the peer educators, who are after all just young people of the same age, has made a deep impact on the learner drivers and has influenced the level of risks they take:

“This story has opened my eyes. Most of the time, you think that this can never happen to you or to somebody close to you. But when somebody tells you about an accident, right in your presence, you understand that this can happen to everybody”.

“It is easy to read about accidents in books and magazines but to meet somebody who has gone through an accident makes everything more real”.

“You can easily forget that accidents happen every day. So it is better to hear about the reality from somebody who has actually been through such an experience, than reading anonymous statistics”.

Furthermore, peer education and emotionally-charged learning have a sustainable impact on the views of learner drivers. Many participants were able remember the stories of the offenders months after the presentations:

“I remember their stories. It is useful having somebody explain to you what can happen because reality can be terrible”.

“From time to time, I think back to the discussion“.

As well as changing the behaviour of the young learner drivers, the project also aims at behaviour change on the part of the peer trainer. The repeated confrontation in public with his/her own behaviour, which brought about the accident, and their reflection on their behaviours during the preparatory training, done with mentors, support  the re-socialiation of these offenders and help to change their behaviour. Offenders often say that they are happy about being able to prevent others from making the same mistake that they did:

"The project Close To gave me the chance to deal with the consequences of the terrible accident I had. When I tell learner drivers about it, I believe I can change something in their heads. What happens when you are drunk and still drive is so evident to them through my personal fate“.

In the meantime, Austrian courts have recognised the positive impact of the peer training on young offenders. Many judges increasingly recognise participation in Close To as an alternative or complementary punishment or use it instead of a fine or prison.  Furthermore, participation in the project is recognised as one reason for reducing the punishment , e.g. by granting early parole.

About this case study
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Andreas Pawelke provided Governance International with this case study on 22 June 2011.

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