Driving at 10? New courses putting U17s behind the wheel

Ten-year-old Anwen behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Corsa.

Ten-year-old Anwen behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Corsa. - Credit: Young Driver

There's something rather disconcerting about seeing your 10-year-old daughter get behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Corsa and drive off into the distance.

But this wasn't a pre-pubescent case of grand theft auto, it was in fact part of a groundbreaking initiative to create a generation of safer motorists years before they take their driving tests.

Young Driver is a programme which has been running at Herts County Showground, off Redbourn Road, near St Albans, since the spring, offering a realistic road system where youngsters aged between 10 and 17 can work on a range of driving skills and manoeuvres under the supervision of qualified instructors.

The emphasis of the lessons is on safety and fun and encouraging youngsters to consider how to drive responsibly, giving them time to perfect driving skills such as gear changes, braking and steering without the pressures of public roads.

The site is large enough to reach speeds of 30 mph in safety, giving drivers plenty of practice in moving through all of the gears, and the layout offers two-way roads and one-way roads, crossroads and roundabouts, T-junctions and traffic lights.

A nervous Anwen before her lesson.

A nervous Anwen before her lesson. - Credit: Matt Adams

Anwen prepares to get into her vehicle.

Anwen prepares to get into her vehicle. - Credit: Matt Adams

My daughter Anwen nervously climbed into her car alongside her instructor, and after stalling once or twice, cautiously drove off into the distance, leaving me standing around wondering quite what I'd done! Seriously though, it was all under close supervision, and at no time was she likely to plough into a tree or veer down a ditch.

For the next hour I'd watch her car (all vehicles are individually numbered so parents can spot them from a distance) driving around the course, going in and out of view, indicating, braking and even reversing at one point. It was an odd experience, knowing she was so young and in effective control of an actual car, but I couldn't spot any hesitation or stalling, so she was obviously doing OK.

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Parking up afterwards, her beaming face told me everything, and she proceeded to bombard me with details about accelerating, indicators and any other information she had absorbed over the previous 60 minutes, before asking if she could have another lesson in the future.

Anwen pulls up after her lesson.

Anwen pulls up after her lesson. - Credit: Matt Adams

One of the highlights of the programme was the option to buy video footage of her lesson, with dual cameras allowing a split-screen of Anwen in the driving seat and a view from the front of the car. Watching it back, I was amazed by how calm and relaxed she seemed to be, with none of the nervousness expected of learner drivers.

She was attentive and focused, listening to her instructor's comments and reacting decisively. It was a real eye-opener to watch, and proved that you really are never too young to learn the basics of driving.

Anwen drives around the Herts Showground site.

Anwen drives around the Herts Showground site. - Credit: Young Driver

Anwen told me afterwards: "At first I was nervous but I got better and had a lot of fun. It was really cool and it was like I was 17. I felt more confident and I now know what to expect when I drive a car."

Shockingly, one in five newly qualified drivers crashes within six months of passing their test. But for those who have taken a Young Driver course, the rate of accidents in that worrying first six months drops dramatically, to fewer than four per cent.

A split-screen view of Anwen at the wheel.

A split-screen view of Anwen at the wheel. - Credit: Young Driver

Sue Waterfield, head of marketing at Young Driver, said: “Clearly something needs to be done to tackle the seriously high accident rates of our young drivers.

"Training drivers over a longer period of time allows youngsters to have a solid understanding of how to drive a car before they get anywhere near a real road. But the lessons are also lots of fun and they’re a great general confidence boost for teens and pre-teens, who take the responsibility very seriously.”

For more information on upcoming Young Driver sessions and details on how to book, visit youngdriver.eu/venues/south/hertfordshire