SEVERAL young drivers are seriously hurt or killed on the M5 in Somerset every year, but the county’s road safety team has launched a course in the hope of dramatically reducing the death toll.
Reporter DANIEL MILLIGAN, 24, a driver for a tender 2½ years, was the first person to test out the programme.
The driving test is over and the wait begins. ‘Congratulations’, you’re told, ‘you’ve passed’.
You can’t wait to snatch that prized bit of paper from the driving examiner with your trembling, clammy hands and get on the road – you’re free.
Despite having only driven on town centre roads or possibly reaching the heady heights of 60mph on an A-road, you can now head out quite legally on your own and take to the motorway – the South-West’s fastest and busiest route.
And that’s where Somerset Road Safety bosses say the problem lies, so they have launched a pilot course to give young drivers the heads-up on motorways.
They’re offering a free 90-minute motorway lesson with a driving instructor to newly qualified drivers aged 17 to 24.
The lesson, christened ‘Up to Speed’, aims to equip drivers with the confidence to keep themselves, their passengers and other road users safer on the motorway.
Before the practical lesson you take part in an hour-long workshop where project leaders Rina Cameron and Mike Smalley talk you through topics such as joining the motorway, overtaking manoeuvres, lane discipline, approaching a junction and leaving the motorway.
The course is interactive and people are encouraged to be open about their worries over motorway driving.
Sunny Fan, 18, who passed her test a month ago, said: “The motorway’s terrifying. It’s very fast, and everyone’s going in the same direction and really close to you.
“One slip and you could be in trouble.”
Andrew Crostley, of Minehead, said: “I’d have done it with family, but they weren’t available, so this is free and a good chance to do it.”
It’s time for the driving. Andy Skyrme is one of five instructors delivering the practical side of the course, and despite a few early nerves on my part he made me feel at ease so I could drive as I would on a daily basis.
I soon realised I’d picked up some bad habits – not checking my mirrors as often as I should and those dreaded blind spots – but I felt young people could leave the session with confidence to take on the motorway without the fear.
Many driving instructors will offer motorway tuition after their students pass their test, but Andy said this can set people back around £50.
He said: “This course will give them a professional perspective on how to use the motorway rather than just a parental one.
“You’re looking a gift horse in the mouth if you don’t do it.
“We learn by trial and error, but you can’t do that on the motorway at high speed.”
Project manager Rina said it costs the Government £1.8million when a young driver is killed and £215,000 for one who is seriously injured.
She said: “Young drivers aren’t easy to educate because they’re at an age when they’re easily persuaded to ignore road safety advice.
“They don’t see the danger like an experienced driver – they’re over-confident and inexperienced, which is a deadly combination.”
The pilot is fully booked until the end of March, and Rina encourages any driving instructor interested to see what the course involves to come to the theory session.
Rina said: “People don’t like their driving criticised, but if we’re all such good drivers why are there so many crashes.
“If we can stop one serious crash or one fatality then we’ve saved a life, saved the trauma of a family and more than saved our money from the cost of the course.”
To book a place on the course, see the story at somersetcountygazette.co.uk/news or call 01823- 423430.
n SOMERSET Road Safety also runs a Route 60 course for older drivers who are concerned that their skills may have diminished.