Could I really cut my car insurance bill by driving at 100mph? Toby Walne hones his racing skills in a Lotus – and becomes a safer driver
Hurtling towards a corner at 100mph, the driving instructor barks out an order to slam the foot down hard on the accelerator rather than ease off. I splutter that we are both likely to die but British GT Championship race winner Rob Barff is not impressed – and demands I keep focused on the road ahead.
The tutor knows what he is talking about because after just a day of racing at the Lotus Driving Academy in the Norfolk village of Hethel, I am not only still alive – but a much better motorist.
Strange as it might seem, trying to emulate the newly crowned six-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton on a race track is far more than just about having fun. It makes you a safer driver, can help knock hundreds of pounds a year off car insurance premiums and reduces the chance of ever getting involved in a road accident.
FAST LEARNER: Toby Walne saved £31 on the insurance for his Lotus Elise
There are a host of track days and courses available to improve motoring skills. Perhaps the most popular is the advanced driving programme run by motoring organisation IAM RoadSmart. It can help lower motor insurance premiums by up to 20 per cent – £200 for a young driver paying £1,000 a year.
The course costs £149, typically comprises ten lessons (up to two hours a time), with an expert showing how you can improve your motoring skills and confidence by learning to anticipate hazards on the road. It also offers £135 half-day track days. With 185 RoadSmart groups dotted around Britain it should be easy to find a local centre.
You can also cut insurance costs by up to a fifth by taking the Government-recognised Pass Plus course that involves a professional driver showing you how to improve your motoring skills – it includes all-weather, rural, motorway and night driving.
It usually costs £180 and involves six hour-long lessons. Although targeted at newly qualified motorists, anyone with a driving licence can take the course. Details of local instructors can be found by visiting the website of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency or phoning 0115 936 6504.
More than £8.1 billion of claims were made on motor insurance last year and the vast majority could have been prevented had greater skill been shown behind the wheel
The course I opted for was a £400 track day at the Lotus Driving Academy, in the process earning me a ‘bronze level’ certificate.
Although a large element of the training involved the thrill of learning motor racing skills, road management was also a key element – making me a safer driver behind the wheel.
Negotiating chicanes and taking sharp corners at speed in a Lotus Elise Sport 220 was a skill that instructor Barff believes could one day save my life.
He says: ‘Your level of alertness rises when improving your driving skills – and you are looking ahead at potential road challenges. If an animal suddenly jumps out or you hit a patch of oil there is no need to panic if you are in control of your driving. Developing ability makes motoring more fun and puts you more in control of day-to-day driving.’
More than £8.1billion of claims were made on motor insurance last year and the vast majority could have been prevented had greater skill been shown behind the wheel. Sadly, once a driving test has been passed many motorists believe this is the end of learning – when it should really be the start.
Annual motor insurance costs an average of £789, according to the comparison website Confused. Men tend to pay more than women – £827 a year compared to £741. This is because females make fewer claims so appear to be safer drivers.
One in three motorists receives a fine every year, paying out a total of £800 million from avoidable speeding and parking tickets
Avoid accidents and your premiums soon plummet as no-claims bonuses build up. After just four years of accident-free motoring the cost of insurance can drop by 60 per cent. Yet if you get involved in an incident during this time, the cost of your insurance may go up by a third – even if the accident was not your fault. Being a safer driver is not just about saving money – but also lives. Five people a day die on average in road traffic accidents in Britain as a result of incidents that are often avoidable.
Rodney Kumar, a spokesman for IAM RoadSmart, says: ‘Track days and driving courses help you get the most out of a car. They help you understand acceleration, breaking and cornering so that you might handle vehicles better in the future. It is not just about improving your own anticipation skills but also being more aware of the behaviour of other drivers as often motor accidents are not your fault.’
One in three motorists receives a fine every year, paying out a total of £800 million from avoidable speeding and parking tickets. A driving course will focus not just on natural hazards but also road signs and rules that if heeded enable you to avoid such penalties.
Improving skills on a racetrack is often best done in someone else’s vehicle and not your own to save on engine wear, brake pads and tyre rubber. But part of taking an advanced driving course on the road includes how better use of the accelerator, gears and braking can prevent expensive wearing down of the clutch and tyre tread – as well as save on fuel bills.
And my motor insurance? I paid insurer Hastings Direct £272 a year to cover my second-hand £15,000 Lotus Elise. After visiting comparison websites and calling Hastings explaining my new-found driving skills, it offered me exactly the same cover – for £241.
More ways to cut the cost of cover
● DO not just accept the insurance quote from your existing provider – or be lulled into the ease of auto-renewal. Six million motorists could save up to £200 a year by switching. Use a comparison website such as GoCompare to see if you can get a better price. Then, call your existing insurer to see if it can beat the offer. You may be pleasantly surprised.
● GET a black box. Insurers can knock up to 20 per cent off premiums if you are willing to have a telematics tracking device fitted in your car. The technology monitors your location, driving style and speed – hopefully making you more cautious behind the wheel, so cheaper to insure. Firms install boxes for free or a £100 one-off fee. The palm-sized tracker is typically put out of sight under the dashboard.
● PROTECT a no-claims bonus. A five-year, no-claims bonus can shave up to 75 per cent off your premiums so is worth keeping. It may also be worth protecting this bonus by paying an extra £25 a year.
● THE cheapest quote is rarely the best. You may find any rock bottom deal comes with a high excess – £500 plus. This will wipe out any savings if you are involved in an accident, even if it is not your fault. Look at what is included in the policy – such as medical and legal cover and car breakdown. Other extras may include replacement of lost keys, stereos, windscreens and courtesy cars. Fully comprehensive insurance is the best because it offers cover if the accident was your fault – or that of somebody else.
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