Christmas can be a busy and dangerous time on the roads, with the party season sadly raising the spectre of drunken revellers getting behind the wheel.
And most tragically, it is 17 to 25-year-olds who are most likely to be in a fatal collision during the festive break. Across the UK, one-quarter of all major road accidents are caused by young motorists, who account for just 12% of the driving population, according to the road safety charity Brake. In Scotland alone, a young person is killed every week in a car crash and 17 suffer life-changing injuries.
A Brake and QBE Insurance survey of nearly 1000 young Scots show half have feared for their lives after getting in the car driven by one of their peers, while 22% had been given a lift by a friend who was under the influence of drink or drugs.
Loading article content
Insurers make young customers pay a heavy price for this risky behaviour. Premiums can cost thousands of pounds a year if you're under the age of 25.
Almost all young drivers – 96% – feel they are being priced off the roads, a survey by insurer Young Marmalade found.
Young women will pay even higher rates after Christmas. A new EU directive will make it unlawful for men to be charged more than their female peers, as has been the case up to now. This is despite the fact that "boy racers" are twice as likely to be involved in an accident as girls.
But insurers are now racing to offer nifty technology which could save thousands of lives – and pounds. Telematics remotely tracks when and how you drive. Insurers then use this data to reward careful motorists with lower premiums.
Now employers are getting on board. Road safety group RoSPA told The Herald this week it has signed up around a dozen companies for a pilot scheme funded by the Scottish Government where businesses who rely on young drivers install a "black box" in company cars to encourage safer driving. Kathleen Braidwood at RoSPA said: "Some companies are already rewarding people who drive well with bonuses and other financial incentives. We would like to see improvements in driving at work taken into account by insurers, and we have spoken to companies who say it would be good to see this across the board, not just for young drivers."
Some insurers, like the Co-operative and insurethebox, keep an eye on you via a smartbox installed in the car's dashboard. Customers can then log online to receive a personalised safe driving score. The ABI reckons such policies could save young drivers between 20% and 30% on policy costs.
The Co-op hikes premiums for those who speed, brake suddenly and drive in the middle of the night. It has seen accidents drop by one-fifth among its customers and will boost its safe driving discount to 20% for anybody renewing or taking out the policy after December 21. This could offset the rise in premiums for young women after the new EU ruling comes into play.
This writer tested the Co-op black box, and without trying to "please" the box, I received a score at the "excellent" level of five after a month. If I'd continued my progress, my annual premium (aged 24) would have been £634, more than £100 cheaper than the next best deals at Admiral (£737) and specialist women's insurer, Diamond (£742). Aviva customers can now sample the black box regime by using an app in their cars. It will give you a snapshot of your driving, with Aviva awarding safe customers a 20% discount on premiums. However, this still might not be the best quote you could get, so shop around.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has not ruled out a graduated licence scheme, which Brake says may cut road deaths and boost insurance prospects for young drivers.
This would restrict young drivers to a "novice" licence in the first two years after passing their tests. There would be more lessons on how to drive at night and on motorways, as well as a final test before they can move up to a full adult licence.
In that time, a number of limitations would be enforced, including a ban on driving between 11pm and 4am unless for work or college, a zero blood-alcohol limit, restrictions on passenger numbers, and complete suspension of the licence for any offences.
Such measures have improved road safety in Australia, Canada and the US, says the Association of British Insurers. But they were recently rejected by the UK Government for England and Wales.
Holyrood is more open to the idea, but doesn't (yet) have powers to carry it through. Last year, the National Debate on Young Drivers Safety endorsed the scheme, which it said had gained support among young Scots. The Government has stated in its Road Safety Framework to 2020 it wants a public debate on the issue. Intriguingly, it might sanction voluntary schemes, implemented by parents and insurers, in the absence of formal legislation.
'The smartbox is great for young drivers'
Tracey Robinson from Edinburgh knew she had to get savvy about her car insurance when son Dean Cummings, 19, passed his test last year. She already had older son Ross, 21, on her own policy.
"My own premium suddenly went sky-high – they obviously didn't want to insure two young boys," she recalls.
She went online and found several telematics policies, quickly discovering the Co-op was "quite happy" to have both boys on the policy.
"It is a brilliant idea," Ms Robinson says. "I think the smartbox is really good for young drivers, they have to be really conscious of what they are doing.
"I say to them if you are going to start being boy racers, it will end up costing you more."