ACROSS the UK, it is estimated that only around 3 per cent of all driving licence holders are aged 17-25. But that age group is involved in 25 per cent of all collisions resulting in death or serious injury.
That stark statistic has, in part, prompted a new venture – the Early Learning Driving Centre – which offers driving lessons in a dual-controlled car with a fully qualified and sympathetic instructor to 15 and 16-year-olds.
The venture was launched in the yard of the auction mart in Newtown St Boswells on Saturday.
“We believe it’s a first in the central Borders,” enthused Audrey Power who came up with the idea earlier this year.
The mum-of-three, who runs the 200-pupil swimschool at Whitmuir Hall near Selkirk, had met Andrew Riddell of the Stow School of Motoring when his daughter Eilidh was learning to swim.
“I asked Andrew if it was possible to give my daughters, Billie, 13, and Zoe 12, a driving lesson on private land so they could appreciate how difficult driving was and how much concentration was needed,” recalled Audrey. “I admit I was often struggling to concentrate when driving while my three kids, including my six-year-old son McKenzie, were niggling at each other. I thought if they knew and understood that driving was not easy they would modify their behaviour.”
Andrew, who qualified as a driving instructor 14 years ago, checked with his insurers and told Audrey he was only able to teach youngsters aged 15 or over, even on private land, but suggested she should check online as there were some companies who offered lessons to children as young as 13.
“I checked, but the availability was very poor and it was very expensive,” explained Audrey. “So Andrew, his wife Jane and I decided to set up a wee company aimed at the 15 and 16-year-olds.”
Audrey approached Jack Clark, managing director of John Swan & Sons which owns the Newtown mart, and he was very supportive.
“It’s a perfect venue and location for our purposes with a vast tarmacked area normally used by huge lorries transporting livestock,” said Audrey.
On Saturday, Andrew laid out cones to create a roundabout and a slalom course for his young pupils to negotiate in his dual controlled Toyota Yaris.
“The first lessons were very much about the basics, explaining how the car works, discussing the Highway Code and proceeding and reversing very slowly before attempting any manouevres,” he told us. “The kids know I have the dual controls and that I’m not prepared to take any chances, but despite that, every one of them seemed to enjoy it.
“I have spoken to a number of other Borders driving instructors who, like me, think it’s a great idea which will, in time, improve standards of driving and reduce accidents in the Borders.”
Mr Clark told us: “Many youngsters in a rural area like the Borders are lucky to get their first experience of driving before they are 17 in fields, but that opportunity does not exist for the vast majority who would undoubtedly benefit from the experience before they are legally old enough to drive. I am very impressed with the way the lessons are structured and the emphasis on learning about the basic mechanics as a first step.
“I have no doubt the venture will produce long-term benefits to the Borders.”
Not only was Audrey delighted at how the first sessions went on Saturday, she was also able to watch her 13-year-old daughter Billie make her debut behind the wheel.
“Andrew kindly got special permission for Billie to have a go and we gave the money from the lesson to Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland which will benefit from this weekend’s Tour de Lauder cycling event.”
z A 90-minute introductory lesson at the Early Learning Driving Centre costs £50, which includes a free ELDC T-shirt, while subsequent hourly lessons, which will take place at the mart yard on Saturdays, are £35.
Anyone interested should contact Audrey Power on 01835 870644 or 07974 344 063. Details are also available on Facebook under Early Learning Driving Centre.