Pupils get driving school

Stephen Allan in the driving seat, with instructors Colin Nicol and Gay Masters who believe the key to being a good driver is starting early
Stephen Allan in the driving seat, with instructors Colin Nicol and Gay Masters who believe the key to being a good driver is starting early

EYEMOUTH High School has been widening its curriculum by offering driving lessons to pupils as young as 14.

The lessons, part of a nine week course, were the idea of driving instructor Gay Masters, who wants young drivers to be better prepared for the road when they take their tests.

The aim is to instill good driving practice and, ultimately, keep all drivers on Berwickshire roads safe.

“I had this idea last January,” she said, “and I just went looking for someone to help me realise it.”

One of those helping is fellow driving instructor Colin Nicol.

He has taught in Southampton and various other cities, and knows that Berwickshire roads have dangers all of their own.

“Rural driving is where fatal accidents happen. Motorways are actually safer.

“Age is also a factor here. Under-21s are a minority group amongst drivers, but they have the majority of accidents. That’s important for these kids to remember when they are learning.”

Colin, an instructor for 13 years, believes the scheme can help Berwickshire follow other countries’ examples and reduce the number of fatalities amongst young drivers.

“Swedish surveys show that if you start learning to drive at 16, you are around 15 per cent less likely to be involved in an accident.

“And in some Scandinavian countries children as young as 12 start learning.”

Gay agrees that driving is a skill that needs to be taught earlier in life, and not necessarily just through traditional driving lessons.

She points to the USA, where ‘Driver Education’ is a core lesson in many high schools.

“This is about road safety and education, not just the importance of driving,” said Gay, who offers classes on theory as well as practical lessons.

Colin and Gay are aware of the pressures and influences on young drivers, and know that some teenagers in the Borders will have plenty of experience driving farm vehicles or quad bikes.

But with this experience can come overconfidence and bad habits.

“We do driving lessons as you would at 18, so when they do start driving for real, the things they’ve learned are hardwired in there.”

This means that high-pressure manoeuvres like parallel parking and three-point-turns will be much less daunting and much more practised than if the learner relied on lessons at 17 or 18.

And Gay, from Chirnside, feels youngsters learn better at younger ages, rather than later in their teens, when “many of them have friends who have already passed, and are influencing them, not always positively.”

Eyemouth High School jumped at the chance to pilot the lessons, held in a specially coned-off area of the school carpark.

High School deputy head Mike Ainslie praised the scheme. He said: “It’s been a big success. Feedback has been nothing but positive. They’re all trying to get in for next year, when we’ll be looking at running the lessons for 12 weeks. These kids have shown huge enjoyment.”

Each child receives a certificate to mark their achievement at the end of the course.

Gay herself was 20 when she learnt to drive. She retrained as a driving instructor after receiving heartfelt thanks from friends of her daughter, who she had taken out when they were learning.

The benefits are plain to see even with this being just the first group of pupils to take the classes.

The young drivers feel more confident about eventually taking their test, in which the national pass rate is only 43 per cent.

Stephen Scurr, who is 17 and hoping to take his test soon, was glad to take them. He said: “It helped save me money on driving lessons because the theory was covered here,” he said, “and even reverse parking seems easier when you’re shown how to do it.”

Another joked: “What’s going to be more helpful to me, this or maths class?”

Colin and Gay are now looking for other schools to pick up the scheme in the coming school year.

Gay concluded: “Quite simply we’re helping these kids stay alive. We have a moral obligation to these children”