New Autocar scheme helps young people get their own wheels, and stay safe
With car insurance for teenagers currently averaging £2500 and driving lessons totalling around £1000, not to mention the cost of buying and maintaining a car, many young people just can't afford to get behind the wheel. This can be a big problem if a car is the only way they can get to college or work, or just meet up with friends.
However, a new scheme being piloted by the world-leading motoring magazine, Autocar, aims to make motoring more affordable, and safer, for young people.
The three-year scheme, called Autocar Start, provides learner drivers with a new Smart Fortwo two-seat car, fully-comprehensive insurance from Carrot (underwritten by Zurich) and up to 40 hours' expert tuition from Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy – for a fixed fee of £299 a month. The fee remains fixed even if the driver has to make a claim following an accident, and up to two additional named drivers can be included in the policy. Carrot's insurance uses an in-car 'black box' data recorder to monitor the driver's behaviour and gives financial rewards for good driving.
The scheme comes in advance of a Green Paper to be published by the Department of Transport later this year which will propose a minimum period of instruction before drivers take their test, as well as post-test training.
"Autocar is all about accessible, safe, fun motoring, and today's young drivers face a multitude of barriers to enjoying that," said Autocar editor Jim Holder. "The cost of owning a car, insuring it and getting the right training to be as safe as possible on the roads is prohibitive, so we set out to put together a package that offers a competitive cost and peace of mind for the driver and the bill payer."
What happens, and when
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy tutors, who are stationed across the country, are carefully vetted and subject to standard criminal record checks. Each tutor collects and returns the young driver for their hour-long lesson, which will be given in a dual-controlled Mercedes-Benz A-Class or B-Class hatchback.
The tutor will decide when the young driver is ready to take their test, but only once the young driver has completed 40 hours driving practice accompanied by a parent with a full licence (or a suitable other relative or friend), and had their Smart Fortwo coupé for six months, will they be allowed to take to the roads in it alone. Participants will also be required attend a half-day advanced-tuition session in each year of the scheme.
Once the younger person has passed their test, their Carrot insurance will allow them to earn cash rewards if the car's black box records gives them good scores for their choice of speed, how smooth their driving is, and their usage – for example, driving late at night or repeatedly using the car for very short journeys will result in a poorer 'usage' score. Motorists can check how their driving is being rated, and what cash rewards they can look forward to, via a persona online 'Driving Style Dashboard' provided by Carrot.
The rewards will automatically be credited to the driver's 'Carrot Card' Mastercard debit card, which also earns the card-holder additional cash when it is used to buy purchases at partaking retailers. The policy holder can also load the Carrot Card with their own funds, as an alternative to carrying cash.
The costs in full
A deposit of £500 is required for the scheme, and monthly payments are made over three years with a mileage limit of 10,000 per year. The bill-payer will also be expected to pay for servicing costs at a Smart dealer every 10,000 miles, which range from £115-£222. In addition, a third-year warranty, including breakdown cover, can be purchased for £243 once the car's two-year package has expired. This could mean a total of £12,080 over the three-year period, plus fuel costs – the Smart Fortwo coupé claims an average of 67.3mpg, which should help keep costs low. Its CO2 emissions of 97g/km means it is exempt from road tax.
As well as giving up up 40 hours of their time to accompany practice drives, parents will be required to attend a three-hour 'Parent-Partner' session where the driving tutor will bring them up to speed on current driving standards and give coaching on how to provide the best support when accompanying a learner driver.
There won't be an option to keep the car after the three years is up, but if the driver has made no claims in the period, they'll be able to carry forward their no-claims discount to any new insurance policy.
Smart safety - what you'll want to know
The Smart Fortwo received some criticism by Euro NCAP following its crash tests of the car in 2007, with scores of four and two out of five, respectively, for adult occupant and pedestrian safety. None the less, the Pulse-trim model supplied for Autocar Smart will not come with the optional side airbags. Mercedes-Benz' Communications and Events Director, Rob Halloway, said that the car is still a good choice for learner drivers. "We see the Smart as a safe vehicle which has enough protective systems," he said.
Autocar's editor-in-chief, Steve Cropley, highlighted the safety advantages of a two-seat car in cutting the risk of "taxi service" usage where young drivers feel obliged to provide transport for their friends, and the benefit of no "rear-seat peer pressure" where back-seat drivers can encourage poor decision-making.
To begin with, just 200 places will be offered nationwide, on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information and to register your interest, visit www.autocar.co.uk/autocarstart