By Michael Giles

THE terrible incident last Saturday night, in which Cooper Ratten, the 16 year old son of Hawthorn assistant coach Brett Ratten, was killed, affects us all.
We can all appreciate the devastating impact of such an incident, especially in relation to our own precious children, and we should take this opportunity to sit down with them and discuss it.
The fact is though, that these incidents mainly involve the risk-taking behaviour of young men, aged 15 to 25 (and that of the not-so-young men in the older age categories).
So, the blokes in particular need to take a good-hard look at themselves, especially with the many end-of-season functions coming up; and ensure that they don’t leave themselves or their mates open to that sort of tragedy.
We also have to cover off on road safety in whatever way we possibly can and that includes keeping up the education and awareness messages and also maintaining a strong police presence on the road.
And in this respect, we applaud the efforts of the South Gippsland Shire’s L2P program and local Victoria Police officers who have been running a special ‘Safe Smart Young Drivers’ program locally over the past couple of weeks, starting out in Mirboo North and then following up with a highly successful event in Leongatha last Monday night, attended by 30 to 40 young people.
Similar nights will be run at the Foster Football Clubrooms on Wednesday, August 19 and Korumburra-Bena Football Clubrooms on Wednesday, August 26 (contact the shire for details).
The idea of these events is to get young people talking to each other about safe-driving habits, whether that’s not allowing yourself to become distracted by using your mobile phone while driving or drink-driving and drug-driving behaviour etc.
It’s great that the police and the shire are doing their bit to get the message out there.
One issue that is of concern at the moment, however, is the impact that the elimination of single-officer patrols is having on the police presence on the road, especially in the country.
It is noticeable to the general road user that there are fewer police cars out on the road since that decision was taken in May this year and almost no police motorbikes at all.
This stands to reason if you now have to have at least two officers on highway patrol or attending call-outs.
In general the community is very supportive of any change of policy which makes the work of our police a lot safer but the government now needs to come in strongly behind this policy change and introduce more officers so that the police presence is at least as high was it was before.
No one is saying a greater police presence on that night could have saved the life of Connor Ratten. Unfortunately, most of that comes down to individual decision making.
But there’s little doubt that police presence on the road has a high deterrent factor and if more people slow down or alter their risk-taking behaviour as a result, it’s got to have a better outcome in terms of road trauma.