Cost slams the brakes on young drivers gaining experience

After another white knuckle ride, Sheena Hastings asks how young drivers can become confident when insurance is so expensive.

WITH every university holiday we’re back (almost) to square one. Square one being, in driving terms, the day you pass your test – the day when, as the cliche has it, you really start to learn to drive.

When our daughter gets behind the wheel after a period without driving, one of us has to go with her for the first couple of outings.

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Within seconds we realise how far she still has to travel before she can consider herself, or be considered, a really competent and confident driver. It’s not her fault, and she isn’t atrocious. It’s just that the steady build-up of road awareness and easy, unconscious decision-making that help you to be a really good road user will be hard-won for her because she doesn’t get enough practice, and the biggest reason is not our unwillingness to let her get out there but the cost of her being insured.

She didn’t take to driving like a natural. She was more tense than we’d ever seen her, took months to stop stalling at every other traffic light, and needed what seemed like hundreds of lessons over more than a year before she was anywhere near ready for the test. Even then she took it way too soon and eventually passed at the fourth attempt, just three days before she went to university.

The only way to ensure she got as much mileage in as possible was to get her in the car whenever she was at home, and drive up to see her at uni so that she could have a go. Hopefully, especially given the length of the summer holiday, within a couple of years she’d be completely happy in most situations and handling a car would have become, as it were, like riding a bike. Then we looked into the cost of insurance. After shopping around, the best deal we could get at the time meant parting with just under £1,000 on top of the £340 annual premium I was paying. For teenage boys, who are statistically more likely to have a road accident than girls the same age, the sting was much greater. A cousin’s parents were spending an additional £2,000, albeit on a car with a bigger engine.

There was no way we could afford to pay the full whack – and anyway, it seemed somewhat bonkers to pay 12 months’ insurance for a student who was likely to be away for ten weeks at a time.

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However, we wanted her to be able to drive as much as possible when she was around, so that her confidence and efficiency would grow and she would be less likely to have an accident. Finding the right policy was not easy, try as the broker did on our behalf. Until she is 25 and statistics begin to stack up in her favour road safety-wise, it seems the business of insurance is a thorny one. Now 21, our daughter is still a diffident and sometimes jerky driver, not helped by the fact that the only affordable option insurance-wise gives her up to 30 days a year use of the car, for which we pay £38 a week in addition to my usual premium.

Thirty days is something, but student holidays being what they are, there are up to 120 more days when she could possibly be on the road but can’t be without us paying the full annual premium.

The older she gets, the less her age will be held against her, but for now she and others like her seem to be caught up in a conundrum: how do they become better drivers when the cost of insurance mitigates against a young person affording to insure a car so they can get the experience and skill that only practice will bring?

If a family has spent, as one I know have just done over 14 months, more than £2,000 for driving lessons, you want the teenager to go forward into confident regular driving, not backwards into nervous insecurity that might result in a near-miss or accident. As the RAC say, it’s not youth that’s the problem but experience. Insurers need to recognise that not all young people are a liability on the road; all most need is to put miles on the clock. Neil Greig from the Institute of Advanced Motoring, agrees the industry needs to do more to recognise this – although, to be fair, some moves are afoot.

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“Co-Operative Insurance does, for instance, offer a ‘smart box’ device, which gathers information on how, when and where the young person is driving, and each monthly payment varies according to how they’ve driven in the previous month – what kind of roads, what time of day and whether they drive in rush-hour

“The downsides are the inflexibility of where and when you can drive and still keep your costs down and not knowing what each month’s bill will be. It ‘s time the industry gave itself a shake and did more to come up with individualised premiums.”

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