What’s the point of an R plate on a car? Spare a thought for the person behind the wheel

Return plates are strictly part of an opt-in, third party initiative and are not affiliated with any government road authorities.

Return plates are strictly part of an opt-in, third party initiative and are not affiliated with any government road authorities. Photo: Getty/MyCar

The announcement this week of ‘R Plates’ for drivers returning from road trauma has been met with both praise and scepticism.

The blue plates – similar in design to the recognisable yellow L plates, and red and green P plates – were launched by Australian service and repair company mycar [formerly Kmart Tyre & Auto].

Mycar said the plates are designed to help drivers return to the road after suffering trauma, or returning from a long break from driving.

“We care for those with physical injuries from a road incident, but we rarely consider the mental toll road trauma can take,” it said.

While the idea of supporting fellow drivers in need was met with a largely positive response – social media did give voice to motorist who were less kind.

“If a driver lacks the confidence to drive, then they should stay off the road,” one commenter said, summing up a widely voiced theme.

“How about ‘H’ plates for hoons, or ‘S’ senior plates for over 70’s. How about ‘I’ plates for idiots?” another skeptic posted.

University of Melbourne injury prevention and rehabilitation expert Dr Jason Thompson said people seeking R plates most likely the victims of road trauma and deserved understanding..

“These are people who generally are not at fault in their crash, something’s probably happened to them, they’re perhaps victims,” he said. “They’re not the drivers to worry about on the road.”

Dr Thompson said more than 75 per cent of Australians would be involved in an accident at some stage during their life.

 “We’re all affected by it [road trauma],” he said. 

Fostering ‘a degree of empathy’

Dr Thompson said symbols like the R plate were about “engendering a degree of empathy towards people who are bravely stepping back out onto the road again”.

He said that one standout feature of the campaign is that it could call attention to an often overlooked aspect of car crashes: the psychological trauma they can cause.

Dr Thompson said said we generally see the physical impacts of road crashes, “people who are killed … and severely injured people left with long-term injuries”. 

“But for a lot of people, the disruption to their life is caused by … their abilities to re-engage with the world,” he said. “Their ability to get back on the road is really only prevented by the psychological trauma that’s associated with that crash as well, and that can be extremely disruptive.”

New car plate

R plates aim to help people traumatised by accidents to get back on the road. Photo: Getty

Dr Thompson praised the united messaging of the campaign across Australia.

“It’s national … it’s right across Australia, so that’s a good thing,” he said. 

“There are 40,000 [to] 50,000 people a year who are hospitalised as a result of road trauma. All of those people will require some time to get back on the road.”

While they bear a resemblance to Learners or Provisional driver plates, Return plates are an opt-in, third-party initiative and are not affiliated with any government road authorities.

Similar to ‘Baby on Board’ signage, the Return plates are a silent request for drivers to be considerate.

‘Not the drivers to worry about’

Injury Matters Partnership and Development Manager Emily Anderson said the plates could be useful for anyone affected by the “ripple effect” of road trauma. 

Ms Anderson underlined that the project has the potential to remind drivers of the “sad commonality” of crashes, and how the effects endure long after the scene has cleared.

The hope is that the R plates will assist drivers in returning to something that was once second nature, Dr Thompson said.

“We’re not just … nameless people behind metal and glass … we’re all part of the same society and we’ve all got responsibilities for one another and we can all help one another.” 

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