A SELKIRK High schoolgirl had the thrill of a lifetime at the weekend, driving off behind the wheel of a new Toyota Yaris and weaving in and out of traffic cones.
But young Billie Power, although only aged 13, was not breaking the law; she was, in fact, taking her first tentative steps to becoming a careful and accomplished motorist.
Luckily for Billie, her mother has just joined forces with a qualified driving instructor to form a new business venture – the Early Learning Driving Centre.
And Billie’s debut as a driver came not on the open road, but in the huge tarmaced yard of the region’s only auction mart at Newtown St Boswells.
Mum Audrey, who lives in Midlem and runs the 200-pupil swimschool at Whitmuir Hall, came up with the idea earlier this year after discussions with Andrew Riddell, who runs the Stow School of Motoring.
“I knew Andrew because I had taught his daughter to swim and I ask him if it was possible for him to give my daughters – Billie and 12-year-old Zoe – a driving lesson on private land so they could appreciate how difficult driving was an how much concentration was needed,” recalled Audrey.
“I admit I was often struggling to concentrate 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 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 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 area normally used by huge lorries transporting livestock, but very quiet and safe on a Saturday when we hold the lessons,” said Audrey.
Last Saturday, Andrew laid out cones to create a roundabout and a slalom course for his young pupils to negotiate in his dual controlled 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 manoeuvres,” he told us. “The kids know I have the dual controls and that I’m not prepared to take any chances, but despite that, everyone 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 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. She loved every minute of it and I know that, when she gets her licence aged 17, I will not be unduly worried.”
•A 90-minute introductory lesson at the Early Learning Driving Centre costs £50, while subsequent hourly lessons, which will take place at the mart yard on Saturdays, are £35.
Anyone interested should contact Audrey on 01835 870644 or 07974 344 063. Details are also available on Facebook under Early Learning Driving Centre.
•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.