News / Transport

Driving program puts Learners on the road to their licence

L2P program celebrates its 150th graduate but needs more mentors

Natasha McLaurin shows off her new P plates with Fiona Thiessen and Phillip Elkins in the background.

Mark Phillips
Friday, September 9, 2022

AN AGE gap of half a century proved no barrier when it came to 72-year-old Phillip Elkins teaching Natasha McLaurin how to drive.

The two were connected through the Moreland L2P program, which matches an experienced mentor with a L-plate driver on the road to gaining their Probationary licence.

In the course of the scores of hours they spent together in one of the program’s Toyota Yaris cars, the pair became good friends.

Ms McLaurin is the program’s 150th graduate since it was launched in 2010, and the fifth driver Mr Elkins has successfully steered to their P-plates.

But to be able to continue helping learners obtain their full driver’s licence, the program is now in desparate need of more volunteer mentors like Mr Elkins.

“At the moment, we’ve only got about 35 mentors and to meet that need, we really should have about 55 so we can provide a one-to-one experience,” said Fiona Thiessen, the co-ordinator of Moreland L2P.

The L2P program was developed by the Transport Accident Commission after Victoria in 2007 introduced a graduated licensing system requiring learner drivers under the age of 21 to complete a minimum of 120 hours behind the wheel before they were eligible for their Ps.

There are 50 programs around the state like the Moreland L2P, which is based in Victoria Street in Brunswick as part of the Inner Northern Local Learning and Employment Network.

Over the past 12 years, it has supported more than 400 learners through 15,000 hours of supervised driving practice, with more than 150 having now gone onto graduate through the program.

The program is designed for learners like Ms McLaurin, now 22, who moved to Melbourne from Beechworth for tertiary study and had no access to a car or a supervisor from her immediate network.

She gained her Ls in 2016 and was matched with Mr Elkins, a retired manager for Toyota who lives in Brunswick, in 2019.

Mentors go through a recruitment process and background checks followed by extensive training before they are ready to be matched with a learner driver.

Ms Thiessen said mentors were not expected to be driving instructors as learners were provided with seven lessons from a professional driving instructor as part of the program.

Mr Elkins and Ms McLaurin developed a rapport during the dozens of hours behind the wheel.

Mr Elkins, who learnt about the program through an article in a local newspaper, has provided more than 500 hours of supervision, mentored five learner drivers to gain their P-plates and supported a further nine young people to increase their driving experience.

A retired manager at Toyota, he sees his role as more than just a driving teacher, but a mentor in the truest sense of the word.

“When you’re sitting next to you find out all about their lives and what goes on with them and develop a friendship with them,” he said.

“At the same time, you’re helping them learn, they’re gaining tangible skills which in a few months’ time they will be able to put to work and drive to their job or their study and you’ll know you’ve helped them. So it’s very rewarding in that way.”

Ms McLaurin obtained her L plates in northern Victoria, but after beginning a degree in international relations at Monash University, she was unable to find anyone in Melbourne with a car to supervise her driving until she came across the L2P program, particularly as she wanted to learn on a manual transmission.

It’s clear the pair have a rapport, despite their vastly different backgrounds and ages.

“He was very friendly and I loved being able to go there every week and yak about things in the car and it was nice to drive to different areas as well,” Ms McLaurin said.

“He was very patient even when I was stalling the car and attempting hill starts on Gaffney Street.”

For his part, Mr Elkins says Ms McLaurin was “an excellent learner”, and while they enjoyed a chat, she was equally focused on improving her driving skills.

Ms Thiessen said that at any one time, Moreland L2P has 60 students, which creates a significant demand for volunteer mentors.

“We’re looking for people who are passionate about supporting young people, that are patient and can give constructive criticism and who are able to be positive about the learning experience and understand how skills are developed,” she said.

“They also need to be conscious of the demographic they’re working with as they [students] are often quite vulnerable and about half weren’t born in Australia and may not speak English as a first language.”

More information about the Moreland TAC L2P program is available on its website, or from Fiona Thiessen on 0457 791 480 or