THE late night squeal of tyres is a grimly familiar sound to Ballarat residents.
For many it represents the irreconcilable duet of young people and cars; where a fatal impotence to change driver attitude has a Darwinian inevitability about it.
But one little-known not for profit organisation is taking a new approach to the problem and getting results. Ballarat's worst drivers are being sent to the Road Trauma Awareness Seminars to hear from crash victims, emergency service workers and to see graphic pictures of the carnage they cause on our roads.
The successful changes in some peoples thinking have led some to suggest it should be compulsory for all probationary drivers.
It was a sunny day last October when Ballarat teenager Sam Hishon decided to head down the coast for a surf.
Having only just got his licence back after losing it for not displaying P-Plates, Sam was pulled over by police about half-an-hour from the beach. He was clocked doing 115km/h in a 60km/h zone.
"I had no idea I was going that fast," Sam said.
"They told me I'd have to go to court and the car was impounded for 30 days...it was my dad's work car so he wasn't really happy about that."
Sam's lawyer advised him to attend a Road Trauma Awareness Seminar in the hope it would help reduce a sentence, but before he could attend, tragedy almost struck the 19-year-old.
Weeks before the seminar, Sam was a passenger in a high-speed crash at North Ballarat. He was knocked out by the car's airbag but no-one was seriously hurt.
"It shook me up pretty bad," he said.
"So when I was at the Road Trauma Seminar, I could relate to both sides of it," he explains as both a victim and a potential perpetrator.
But even more remarkable were the revelations the seminar brought to Sam about himself and how it changed his thinking.
Even after his loss of license for failing to display P-Plates, then for speeding, Sam still didn't believe he was a bad driver.
"I was never a hoon or did skids or anything like that," he said.
"But I wasn't aware I was a horrible driver until I got to the seminar."
That experience, Sam says, changed the way he thinks about driving altogether.
"Everyone goes around and tells their story — I wasn't the worst one there but I was up there," he said.
"In our seminar we had a firefighter who showed us some really confronting pictures of accident scenes, then we had a victim of a crash speak to us."
"That was a really emotional moment...It was dead silent and everyone was just thinking; 'yeah we could have done that to someone'."
Sam said the seminar was, for him, confronting and "intense", but said the message was delivered in just the right way.
"I got home and told mum and dad it should be compulsory for all people doing their P-Plates," he said.
"It works for sure — it has for me."
Sue Cox was 17 when her boyfriend offered to drive her and a friend home from the local pub.
That "joy-ride" as she recalls, almost killed her and changed her life forever.
Now, almost 30-years later, Sue speaks regularly at Road Trauma Awareness Seminars to stop others from making poor decisions on the road.
"I'm not sure how many drinks we had at the pub, but we decided to go home the back way (and) my boyfriend at the time asked if we wanted a joy-ride," she said.
"We went up a hill, got airborne, flew through the air for 20 metres and hit a tree."
Sue, the front passenger, copped the brunt of the impact and was assessed as clinically dead at the scene.
The Bendigo woman said she remembers "everything" about the horrible moments leading up to the collision itself.
"I remember flying through the air and seeing the tree we hit and I remember screaming," she said.
"I stopped breathing, had massive head injuries, a collapsed lung, two fractured ribs, a broken jaw, fractured pelvis and a fractured femur
The car's other two occupants walked away unharmed.
Sue's life — her whole world — was turned upside down in a matter of seconds. All for agreeing to a simple joy-ride.
"Before the accident, I water skied, trained for a black-belt in self-defence, played hockey and I ran," she said.
"I can't do any of that now."
After spending almost three years in hospital and rehabilitation, Sue recovered enough to walk and eventually talk, but communication continues to be her major challenge as a result of the sickening crash.
"When people hear me speak they must think "what's wrong with her", but my mental function is 100 per cent normal - it's just my speech," she said.
"I've had to work really hard to get my life back."
Sue has not heard from the driver of the car since the accident except for a card she received on her 18th birthday. She was still in hospital at the time.
She has since married, achieved qualifications in laboratory skills and techniques and works as a theatre technician at Bendigo Base Hospital.
When she's not busy with work, she speaks to offenders at Road Trauma Awareness Seminars.
"My biggest regret is saying "yes" to the joy ride," she said.
"If I can stop one person getting injured or killed from each seminar, then it's worth it."
Mark Cartledge has worked with Ballarat Fire Brigade's road rescue unit since 1992.
In that time, he's pulled dozens, if not hundreds of people from the carnage of road crashes — even some of his own friends.
Now Mark speaks at the Road Trauma Awareness Seminars with the sole purpose of making those in attendance — people usually ordered there by a magistrate — to take note of what can happen on the roads.
Mark admits he was "fluffy and soft" when he started talking at the seminars, but has now adopted a more hard-edged approach to drill the message home.
"I don't show photos of bodies, but I will show photos of blood in the cars and I give them all the details," he said.
"I don't say 'there was brains splattered over the roof' — I'll just say body parts — but that's the reality of what we're confronted with all the time."
Mark said he tries to put those at the seminar at the scene of a major rescue.
"I start describing the smells - the blood, the oil, the petrol, the diesel, the battery acid, the bodily fluids," he said.
"Then I go into the sounds — the people screaming, the paramedics talking trying to calm the patient, all the truck engines, choppers coming in."
"Then I go into the sights — limbs hanging out cars, flashing lights everywhere, bystanders breaking down in tears."
These descriptions are accompanied by graphic images of cars into trees, blood-stained interiors and vehicles so destroyed they're almost unrecognisable.
"I hit them pretty hard with all of that," he said.
Afterwards, Mark speaks to the group about his first serious rescue — one which has had a profound impact on his career.
On New Year's Eve 1992 in Sebastopol just on dusk, a car with several people inside drove into the path of an oncoming semi-trailer. The result was pure chaos.
"They reckon the sun got in the drivers eyes, they didn't see the semi which has come through and collected the car, (then) wrapped it around a pole," he said.
Mark explains the horror of "flicking" someone else's body parts off a friend, who was still alive inside the car.
"I was flicking bits of body part off her and realised it was the other girl's body parts — that was a bit of a shock," he said.
"It's those sorts of things that can stay with you."
Mark said the Ballarat Fire Brigade rescue unit was the city's "front line" against road trauma, but he'd be more than happy if he was out of a job altogether.
"I'd love nothing more than to leave that rescue truck parked in the shed — but it will never happen," he said.
"The message just has to get through, so that's why I do these talks."
For more information on Road Trauma Support Services, who run the seminars, visit