A RURAL council has become the first in Scotland to offer young motorists the chance to complete an enhanced driving course for free in a bid to try and cut road deaths.

Up to 400 young drivers in the Borders will be encouraged to undertake an advanced driving course to help them improve their skills behind the wheel and avoid crashes.

The Skill for Life programme normally starts at £139, but the council will foot the bill after committing £48,000 to persuade 17 to 25-year-olds to sign up.

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Participants will be asked to pay the cost upfront but will be reimbursed once they pass the course, which is run by the Institute of Advanced Motoring.

A total of 434 people were injured on Borders roads from 2008 to 2012, with Scottish Government figures showing £35.7 million is the average annual cost of road accidents in the region.

Chief Inspector Kenny Simpson, who is also the council's Safer Communities Team Manager, said: "This is a great opportunity to learn skills which offer long term benefits not only to the driver but to the Borders community.

"There are far too many people killed or seriously injured on our roads and young people account for 20-25% of these."

Rural roads in Scotland are known to account for double the number of fatal crashes every year compared to urban areas, averaging 129 per year between 2008 to 2012.

The death toll included a number of crashes involving teenage drivers in the Borders.

On New Year's Day in 2012, 18-year-old Scott Johnston was killed when the Mitsubishi driven by his friend Robert Thornton, also 18, left the road and struck a tree near Weststruther. Thornton spent three months in hospital recovering from his injuries and later pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving. It emerged that he had borrowed the vehicle from his great uncle and was not insured to drive it on the night of the crash.

An open day to promote the course will be out on from 10am-3pm at Clelands showroom in Galashiels on Sunday March 23. Young drivers will also be offered a free health check for their vehicles.