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Driving lessons, the test itself, buying and insuring a car all add to the expense, but there are ways to limit the damage

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Passing your driving test has long been seen as a rite of passage, but the rising cost of running a car is driving more and more young people off the roads. The Department for Transport’s recent National Travel Survey shows a sharp drop over the past 18 years in the number of young people holding a full driving licence. While in 1995, some 43% of 17- to 20-year-olds held a full driving licence, that has plunged to just 31%. The fall is sharpest among young men, where it has dropped from 51% to 30%, while the percentage of young women with a full driving licence has slipped from 36% to 31%. Over the same period the proportion of 21- to 29-year-olds with full driving licences has also fallen.

The main reason fewer young people are driving is cost, says Stephen Glaister, director at the RAC Foundation. “Younger people were hit disproportionately hard by the downturn. Even though employment is now rising, incomes are stagnant, and many are only in part-time work, and find running a car too expensive.”

Spiralling student debt and rising housing costs leave little money for driving lessons, at around £25 an hour, and the test itself. With the practical test costing up to £75, and the theory test adding another £31, the cost of buying a car is the least of the problems facing young drivers. In 1995 a five-year-old Ford Fiesta, a typical first car, cost £3,250, against £5,510 today, according to figures from motoring guide Glass’s. That is a rise of nearly 70%, almost exactly in line with the increase in average earnings over the period, says Andrew Jackson, head of analytics at Glass’s. “In real terms, the Fiesta isn’t any more expensive than it was in 1995, even though the materials, technology and manufacturing quality are incomparably better.”

Other motoring costs have accelerated sharply, according to the RAC Foundation’s UK Cost of Motoring Index. While the cost of living has risen 76% since 1995, as measured by the retail price index, the cost of maintaining a car has risen 140%, while petrol and oil costs have increased 145%. Meanwhile the cost of tax and insurance has soared by 170% since 1995, well over twice the rate of inflation. The average 17-year-old now pays a hefty £1,997 a year for motor insurance, according to figures from Towers Watson and comparison site Confused.com.

Here are some ways to make getting behind the wheel more affordable.

• Buy a small car

As a general rule, the less powerful your car is the less it is likely to cost to insure, says Lee Griffin, car insurance expert at GoCompare.com. “Young or inexperienced drivers should therefore look at cars with smaller engines as opposed to performance vehicles. But this isn’t the only factor they take into account. They will also look at its value, engine size, power-to-weight ratio, and availability of parts. These factors determine which insurance group the car will be in, and how much it will cost to insure.”

• Shop around

One in three car insurers wouldn’t cover a 17-year-old driver at all, while 10% wouldn’t cover anybody under 25, according to GoCompare.com. “All insurers rate drivers differently, and while some target older, more experienced drivers, others will price competitively for younger drivers, so shop around to make sure you’re getting the right cover at the best possible price.”

An online search for an 18-year-old motorist covering an eight-year-old Ford Fiesta Freedom with a 1.3 litre engine, with 10,000 annual mileage and a £250 excess, showed the cheapest premium at £2,917 a year from Carrot Car Insurance, a telematics-based insurer that targets younger drivers. Next was Hastings Essential, which quoted £4,129 a year. Insure Pink, 1st Central and Go Girl offered quotes ranging from £4,634 to £5,000 a year. Some insurers charged up to £9,000, while many didn’t quote at all.

• Get better qualified

You may be able to get a slightly lower premium if you have taken advanced driving courses such as Pass Plus or the advanced driving test from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). If that 18-year-old had Pass Plus, for example, Hastings Direct would cover them for £2,240, but the next best quote was from Insure Pink at £4,147.

• Secure your vehicle

Fitting your car with an approved alarm, immobiliser and tracking device can make life harder for thieves, reducing the chance that you will make a claim for theft. “It helps if you can park off-road overnight, preferably in a locked garage or at least on a driveway, as your insurer may reduce your premiums accordingly,” says Kevin Pratt, car insurance expert at MoneySupermarket.com.

• Add an older driver to your policy

Adding an older, “safer” driver, such as a parent or relative, will cut the cost of your insurance policy, Pratt says. “You must list the person who drives the car most as the main driver, otherwise you may be accused of ‘fronting’. This is treated as insurance fraud and will lead to a minimum £300 fine plus six points on your licence. It will almost certainly cost more to get insurance in the future, if you can get it at all.”

• Try telematics (Blackbox)

Telematics technology can also help young motorists drive down their premiums. This involves fitting a gadget in your car that measures your speed, cornering, acceleration and braking, as well as your location and the time of day you drive. If the black box judges you to be a safe driver, your insurer should reward you with a lower premium. If you’re taking risks, however, your premium could increase.

A 17-year-old student living in Cardiff driving a two-year-old Ford Fiesta, with no claims or convictions, annual 7,000 mileage and a £250 excess, would typically pay £2,124 a year for standard insurance, but this would fall to £1,783 with Telematics, according to figures from Confused.com. That’s a saving of £341, or 16%. A 20-year-old with three-years’ no-claims bonus would typically see their premium fall from £780 to £601.

• Drive safely

If you’re a young driver with points on your licence or a recent insurance claim to your name, you’re in double trouble, says Pratt. “Driving with care is the name of the game. Points on a licence can easily add 10% to your insurance costs, so avoid speeding and other convictions.” Young drivers should avoid making insurance claims, so they can steadily build up a no-claims discount – this can knock up to 75% off the cost of cover after five years.

www.thedrivingskool.com

1: Take your time
So you’ve received your provisional licence and you’re eager to get started ASAP. Be prepared to take your time and try not to put too much pressure on yourself, there is a lot to learn. It’s quite common for people to tell you how few lessons they took, what they don’t tell you is that they had lots of private practice as well. Also remember that the driving test has got progressively harder over the years, lots of experienced drivers would most likely fail a driving test today. Remember what works for one person may not work for another. Take your time and become a good safe driver, taking your test then will just be a formality and you should pass first time very easily.

2: Learn the controls properly
Make sure you understand the basic controls and how to control the car properly. If you can’t control the car in all situations it will make you feel nervous and affect how you do on your lessons. If you intend to get some private practice with friends or relatives then tell them what you find difficult. You might just be far better going onto a car park to practice things that you need, such as, clutch control, steering between obstacles, braking evenly to a controlled stop or at a given mark, also reversing around corners and into parking bays. Remember that driving very slowly and accurately around tight areas requires much more skill than just driving along a road in a straight line. Constructive practice will benefit you greatly and you won’t be wasting valuable lessons learning the basics.

3: Buy some books
You will need to learn the Highway Code, not just because you have to pass a theory test, but because you need to know all the rules of the road. Driving can be very dangerous when you don’t know what to do because you haven’t read or understood the rules. Don’t just learn the theory questions off by heart, there are hundreds of things that aren’t covered in the theory test. Another good book worth reading is ‘Driving The Essential Skills’ this is a DSA publication. You might also call it the examiners bible. And remember it won’t cost you anything on loan from a library.

4: Ask you instructor
Don’t keep things to yourself, all of our instructors are friendly easy going people who are there to help you and teach you to drive safely, but they are not mind readers. If you don’t know a particular routine or manoeuvre please ask them again, they wont mind going over things as many times as necessary. Most instructors will have a few different techniques for teaching a certain skill and if one way is not working for you then they will have another method that might work for you better.

5: Practice on all types of roads
When learning to drive you should practice on every type of road (apart from motorways) You should not just drive around test routes, and then think you can drive. A good driving instructor will take you to areas that are unfamiliar to you with lots of variety of road and traffic conditions. This will definitely make you into a much better all round driver and when you do pass your driving test and buy a car you will feel a lot more confident about going anywhere in it.

6: Driving test myths
Some people who fail a driving test will often blame anybody and everybody before themselves. When you first meet an examiner they will have your marking sheet without any faults on it, your responsibility is to keep it that way. Driving examiners are very fair people who I’m sure would much rather pass you than fail you. All the stories about people failing because the examiner didn’t like them or they had to fail so many that week are total rubbish. Don’t listen to people who say these things, they are just making excuses about why they failed.

7: Take a mock driving test
At an appropriate time in your training your instructor should carry out a mock driving test. This mock driving test should be very realistic and include all things associated with an actual driving test. It is designed to see how you perform under test conditions including, how you drive independently on your own without any help from your instructor. Your instructor will only give you route directions and instructions.

8: Don’t tell too many people
When learning to drive you will often find that people are always asking you, when are you going in for your test. Our advice is to keep it to yourself because telling people creates pressure and pressure can make you worry, worrying too much about what you’re going to tell them can make you take your mind off your driving, which could then lead to a fail. Sometimes in life its far better to keep quiet and this is one of those times.

9. Keep your driving licence safe
When you go for both your theory test and driving test you will need to take both parts of your driving licence. Most instructors will tell you how they have had pupils who cant find their paper part of the licence, often leading to a frantic search of the whole house, followed by a mad dash to the test centre. Not a good way to start a test.

10. Get plenty of practice
If you were to ask most driving examiners why people fail their driving tests they would probably say that the person needed a lot more practice before coming for a test. Work it out financially, a person going in for a test too soon will most likely fail, they then have to have more lessons and pay another test fee, this can add up to a lot of money. It is far better and more economical to use this money and have more practice before your first test rather than fail and have to do it all again.

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