Ex-champ funds test for young motorists

editorial image

A PIONEERING scheme launched by a Borders 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 January 27.

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.