A PIONEERING scheme launched by a racing driver turned car dealer to refund young drivers the cost of passing their advanced test is to be extended across Scotland.
Passing the exam is seen as a way of cutting the risk of road accidents, while reducing insurance premiums by up to 20 per cent.
Galashiels-based Volvo and Jaguar dealer John Cleland has so far refunded the £139 cost of the scheme to ten young drivers in the Borders, with a further 12 preparing for the test or waiting to start.
The move has been strongly backed by the police because of the higher-than-average proportion of crashes on the region’s roads that involve drivers aged under 26.
Mr Cleland – who has offered to fund 100 young drivers who pass the test – is now planning to spread the scheme to other parts of Scotland and northern England by enlisting 12 other car dealers to follow his lead.
The former British Touring Car champion will highlight the initiative, run with the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), at an open day at his showroom on 27 January.
The IAM’s “Skill for Life” advanced driving scheme includes a one-day induction course and the test fee, while IAM observers provide unpaid coaching in driving skills.
Mr Cleland said: “We can make this a Scotland-wide initiative. I got involved with the IAM because of the totally damning figure that a road death costs more than £1 million [which includes the lost economic output of the person killed]. That seems like a ridiculous amount of money.
“Seventeen-year-olds all think they are the next Ayrton Senna, but the idea behind the scheme is to make them more aware of what they are doing.
“In addition, passing the test generally means insurers will give discounts, and I think that will become more and more of a focus.
“I might get some business from the drivers when they are older, or from their parents, but for us it’s the feel-good factor.”
Traffic police gave their backing to the scheme, which is seen as a crucial initiative in the Borders, where one in four serious- injury crashes involves a young driver – higher than in urban areas.
Acting road policing Inspector Brian Jones, of Lothian and Borders Police, said: “We cannot support this enough. This is an excellent opportunity for all young drivers to take advantage of a skill for life.
“It could almost be seen as a Holy Grail – it would take five to six years to get the same experience as you get from taking the test.”
Bill Allison, secretary of the IAM’s Borders branch, said: “The basic driving test leaves out so much, such as overtaking, which is left to trial and error and is responsible for many serious crashes.”
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency welcomed the initiative.
‘I picked up bad habits and had near-misses’
HE ONCE had all the worst attributes of a “white van man” but is now an advanced driver and learning to train others.
Matthew Bushell is among ten young drivers in the Borders to have had the cost of their advanced driving course refunded after passing the test.
Mr Bushell, 27, who took the test two years ago, admitted to having had a completely different attitude behind the wheel in his earlier driving days.
The plumbing firm sales manager from Galashiels used to be a van delivery driver, dashing up and down the A7 to Edinburgh.
He said: “I was conscious I was picking up bad habits. I would rush about the place. I drove too close to the car in front, only looked a short distance ahead and had one or two near misses.”
Mr Bushell signed up for the advanced driving course after meeting Bill Allison of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) at his local car club.
He said: “I thought that if I’m going to drive a van for a living, improving my driving would be useful.
“I’m now more patient and confident, and have a lot more time to do things while driving by planning further ahead.”
His insurance premium has also been cut by £150, or around 20 per cent.
Mr Bushell is now training as an IAM “observer” so he can pass on his new skills.