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