Should we put children behind the wheel?

Should we put children behind the wheel?

British program allows instruction as early as 10 years of age

At first, I found this headline shocking:

10-YEAR OLDS ON THE ROAD TO SUCCESS 

WITH SEARCH FOR BRITAIN’S BEST YOUNG DRIVER UNDERWAY

Ten-year-olds driving? No way! Simply irresponsible.

But then I remembered that my father started driving when he was 12, and as long as I stayed on gravel roads, I was allowed to take the car when I was 14. And I recalled that in some states, children working on family farms are allowed to drive — and legally —  at age 14, and there also are “hardship” exemptions in certain cases in some states.

So I decided to read beyond the headline to see just what the British scheme was all about…

Turns out that England’s Young Drive Challenge is in its fifth year. It is open to driver less than 17 years of age — apparently the earliest age at which a British youth can drive legally. Actually, you can be as young as 10 and enter the competition to be selected as Britain’s Best Young Driver in a program organized by Young Driver, reportedly the largest provider of pre-17 driving instruction, which is offered at 50 locations across the UK.

 

Don’t worry, there’s an instructor in the dual-control car

The goal of the program, organizers say, is “to reduce (the) accident rate of newly qualified drivers.”

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Young Driver notes that, “One in five newly qualified drivers has an accident within six months of passing their test and more than 400 people are killed on UK roads in accidents involving young drivers every year.”

The event’s news release states, “The Challenge encourages youngsters to consider responsible and safe driving, with top marks given to those who show the best levels of control and awareness.”

The “challenge” takes place at the Young Driver teaching centers through July, at which point the 40 best scores in the country — 20 in the 10-13 age bracket, 20 in 14-16 — advance to the finals, scheduled for September 22 at the fire Service College in Moreton in Marsh, where emergency services’ drivers undergo their driving instruction.

All events are done in dual-control Vauxhall Corsa cars with an approved driving instruction in the second seat. Driving skills scored include parallel parking, independent driving, emergency stops, steering, judgment and positioning.

Luka Wilson-Green won the 10-13 age-group championship in the Young Driver Challenge in 2017

“The aim of Young Driver has always been to create a safer next generation of drivers,” said Laura White, head of marketing for the program. “Research shows that teaching children at a younger age, and over a longer period, is key to getting them the experience they need to be able to react quickly and appropriately when they do get on the road for real. 

“People are often amazed at the skill shown by some of our young drivers – even at just 10 – but their brains are like sponges and they absorb all the information and road safety points without having the pressure to pass a test, or the need to prove to peers that they can do it.”

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Come to think of it, the Brits might be onto something. I remember back in 1998 we did a cover story at AutoWeek magazine on “10 Secret People That will Change The World.” Featured on the cover was a 13-year-old British youngster named Lewis Hamilton. Turned out he was a pretty fair driver. 

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  • James McIntire
    May 7, 2018, 6:34 AM

    Here in the States we need to seriously rethink our driver education programs. Teen drivers are not necessarily the problem, it’s the adult drivers who are biggest problem! I think for far too long, too many generations of drivers in most states have been allowed to obtain their driver’s license without enough instruction time. Add to that the fact that today’s cars have more built-in distractions than ever before with the 12" screen in the center stack that controls everything; and the fact that no one knows how to take responsibility for their own actions anymore and instead simply passes the buck onto the car or the manufacturer. All of these factors combined and it’s a wonder there aren’t more fatal accidents. Perhaps we could learn something from our friends across the pond!

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  • Paul
    May 7, 2018, 8:12 PM

    I started my daughter driving at 6 years old in Mommy’s 380SL, we would go to office building parking lots on Sunday when they were empty and just drive around the islands. The first thing i taught her was braking, I told her to stomp on the brake as hard as she could so she understood the effort it took to stop the car. Then when she had a feel for that I would have her pull into parking places and stop and then back out of them so she understood the dimensions of the car she was in, then we would just drive around in the parking lot with only her at the wheel, not in my lap we had already done that for a year or so so that she understood the feeling and response of the steering wheel. after doing this for about a year (when mommy was out of town on a trip) then she progressed to my Suburban we would do the same thing and again with the seat all the way forward and all the way up, still in the parking lots for about a year or so, then we went to the neighborhood streets she is about 8 at this time in her driving, the confidence building was unbelievable finally at 9 years old she was able to drive the suburban on a major highway around Atlanta called 285, she was driving and using her signals and all courtesies that many adults can’t seem to do, time when on and still with out moms knowledge she progressed wonderfully. Never with out me in the car she would practice every chance we got. When she was 12 years old I had two Aston Martins in the garage, a DB5 coupe and a DB6 Volante or convertible both right hand drive, the convertible was automatic and the 5 was 5 speed. The weekend was coming up and it was British car day at Chateau Elan about 50 miles from the house. She had been around the neighborhood driving the DB6 with me in it and she had a great feel for it. So the trip was on, I put a telephone book under her rear end as the seat did not have any elevation control and I climbed into the DB5 and she in the DB6 and took off on the highway to the Chateau I led her out the first half mile then fell in behind her, every few miles i would pull up along side to to check her out and she had an ear to ear grin on her face, then as we got close I pulled in front and she followed me in to the car show, then the questions came, "How did you get both cars up here" I pointed proudly to her and said she brought the 6 up. It was a fantastic day of father daughter bonding, and I would do it again in a heart beat. She is now a 34 year old mother excellent driver that could have given Danika Patric a run for her money had we gone the Karting route. When she was in high school at 16 she could have taught the driving class and the kids knew it. I flew out to Utah and we drove back from Park City Utah where she had gone after college to work on the ski slopes with friends one winter in her Subaru and going through St. Louis Mo. as we were heading back to Atlanta I’m snoozing in the passenger seat and all of a sudden there was a very quick left right and i woke and was looking around and I look behind us and we had gone around a corner on the highway and some woman had been standing in the middle of four lanes of highway picking up cardboard that had blown off her car, anyone else would have nailed that woman and she handled it like a pro. I’m a grandpa now and she has a 2 and 4 year old and once in awhile she has him climb into my lap and steer up the straight short road to the driveway. I bought him one of those little electric VW buses you can sit in and drive and holy cow he is so good at it. My daughter had a little electric Camero and then an electric Jeep that she could take her brother for rides in. Those little electric cars are great for understanding what the steering wheel does and how to make the car go where you want. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND ONE FOR YOUR LITTLE GUYS AND GALS TO GET THEM STARTED, at first the noise will scare them but soon they will get used to the sound and enjoy it. her son at almost 4 is now the hit of the neighborhood in Denver in his electric VW bus. My wife only found out about the Aston Martins drive to British Car day and Chateau Elan a few years ago.

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