More than 700 14- to 17-year-old secondary school pupils in Scotland will be given the opportunity to get behind the wheel as part of the national curriculum for the first time.
The initiative follows research that reveals under-17s with off-road driving experience are five times safer on the roads when they pass their test. It’s part of a project led by a consortium made up of Police Scotland, IAM RoadSmart, Scottish Fire and Rescue, Scottish Ambulance Service and Scottish Borders Council.
The school children won’t be allowed out on public roads – instead, the lessons will be held at former RAF airfield Charterhall in Berwickshire. They’ll take the form of 14 day-long sessions held between April and October this year, and Volvo UK is providing 20 cars for use at each event. Where better for a child to learn to drive than on an empty airfield in one of the safest cars on the market?
"Getting young driver education into schools as part of the curriculum has been a long-term goal for everyone involved in the partnership because it offers long-term benefits for both the driver and the Borders community,” said Police Scotland chief inspector, Andy McLean. “To see our efforts come to fruition is an amazing step forward in road safety for the Borders region.
"The new initiative gives young drivers the experience they need to survive the high-risk early months of solo driving, so anything we can do to provide them with these skills to make roads safer has to be welcomed."
Advanced driving instructors will cover the basics in the classroom before allowing pupils to get behind the wheel of a Volvo V40. Tutors will educate students on the fundamentals of driving, including the rules of the roads and hazard perception, through to manoeuvring the vehicle.
"A road accident report conducted in the Scottish Borders last year found that 25% of the accidents analysed involved drivers under the age of 25," said former BTCC champion John Cleland, now dealer principal at Cleland of the Borders Volvo – who helped fund the scheme.
"In our region, 47% of the population live in a rural community where a high proportion of roads are classed as derestricted, presenting many challenges and hazards for any driver, particularly those who are new to driving. We have set up this new initiative to educate young people early, because it's been found that those under the age of 17 with controlled driving experience are five times safer than their peers.”
The initiative follows an on-going programme launched in 2014 that enables 17- to 25-year-old drivers to benefit from advanced driving training free of charge.