Whether it’s in an old banger or new car, it’s always a very big step and the beginning of a new era for youngsters. Driving offers that little bit of independence along with the freedom to explore the open road.
But thanks to Young Driver, some children need not wait until they are 17. Instead, they can book a lesson with a qualified driving instructor and start learning the basics from an earlier age.
In fact, children as young as 10, provided they meet the safety height requirement of 1.42 metres, can start getting to grips with driving with a special emphasis on safety.
Young Driver is the UK’s biggest under-17 driving school and offers lessons nationwide at 70 different venues. They are located on private land, so children are never on the public road, but there are realistic road marking systems with manoeuvre zones, along with a viewing area for proud parents to watch on and take photos.
We caught up with a team from Young Driver at this year’s British Motor Show where virtually every slot had been pre-booked prior to the event. That meant 72 lessons every day in the four cars for the duration of the four-day show.
Lance Peake, team manager for Young Driver at the show at Farnborough, said: “Driving instructors are all self-employed and we now have more than 500 instructors working with Young Driver on a freelance basis. It’s been running about 10 years now and next month we will be delivering our millionth lesson at one of the courses.
“We teach the basics of driving with the emphasis always being on safety. So, we teach them about respect for the car and respect for other drivers around them.
“We are able to introduce the same element we would do on the road, but in a completely safe environment, so there is no coaching on skidding or the likes, but more about varying braking distances.”
At the present time, Young Driver is teamed up with Vauxhall so the youngsters get their first lesson behind the wheel of a dual-controlled Corsa, which is renowned as one of the easiest cars to learn to drive in.
But if you fancy deviating from the norm, the company even offers alternative experiences like driving a fire engine, classic cars such as a Morris Minor or Bentley, as well as providing driving opportunities to children with disabilities.
Lance explained: “The fire engine is a really good example to explain to young drivers about the dangers of blind spots and manoeuvrability.
“We try to work with anyone who needs us. In fact, five-to-10-year-olds can drive one of our fully electric Firefly cars that handle just like the real thing.”
And the instructors have worked with people with physical disabilities too so that they can enjoy the experience of driving and have also opened the door to blind children and youngsters suffering with Down’s Syndrome. That means the enjoyment of driving is not just an exclusive pleasure, but can be shared by all.
It also brings with it lots of reassurance for concerned parents. According to official figures from Young Driver, 20 per cent of newly qualified drivers will have some sort of crash within six months of passing their test which is a worryingly high statistic. But for those who have taken Young Driver lessons, the accident rate drops to 10 per cent. Still high, but a 50 per cent reduction in incidents.
These statistics support Swedish research that shows the number of accidents plummet when drivers take lessons at an early age.
We managed to grab a quick chat with a very excited Harrison Franklin, 14, from Woking, straight after his lesson at the British Motor Show arena.
He said: I really enjoyed it and learnt about accelerating, braking, the clutch and gears.
“My instructor said I did really well and I will definitely have driving lessons when I’m old enough.”
There are locations all across the UK where lessons can be booked. They cost £39.99 for 30 minutes or £74.99 for a full hour. Visit www.youngdriver.com for further details.