Diary: Underage drivers are motoring along

A Young Driver Scheme being held at Meadowhall's Coach parkAlex Soutar with instructor Dave
A Young Driver Scheme being held at Meadowhall's Coach parkAlex Soutar with instructor Dave
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It is like any other first driving lesson: there’s clutch control, parallel parking and plenty of stalling.

Typically, the instructor is keen to stress the importance of mirrors: “If I say good morning,” he tells his charge, “You check your mirror before answering.”

But this is a driving lesson with a definite difference: behind the wheel is a 13-year-old boy.

And as he moves the vehicle into second, The Diary – sitting nervously in the back seat – feels, for the first time ever, the urge to tell someone doing 20mph to “take it steady, son, we’re in no rush”.

Welcome, reader, to Young Driver at Meadowhall.

Here, every other Saturday and Sunday, 300 youngsters aged 11-16 come for basic motoring lessons in one of the centre’s sprawling car parks.

Each child is designated a (dual control) car and an instructor, and then they spend an hour slaloming round specially set-up roads including roundabouts, junctions and a home straight where they get to floor it. Or at least do 25.

The sessions – which are open to everyone (though at £59.99 an hour they’re considerably more expensive than the dodgems) – have been running three years now. But this week they have expanded after Skoda provided a fleet of 16 new motors.

The idea is that by the time those youngsters turn 17 and are ready for real lessons, they will have mastered the basics and will be fully prepared to pass their test quickly.

Having said that, there are plenty of kids here who simply want a one-off blast at driving a real car. The sessions are popular for birthday parties and end-of-exam treats.

“Kids love it,” says Stephen Muirhead, team manager. “They’ll get out of the car afterwards and they can hardly speak for their smiles.

“We had one parent come back who said: ‘Well, the lad had a great time – but, for the next five days, every time we went out in the car he was telling me what I was doing wrong’. They get really enthused about it. It’s giving them the chance to do something only grown-ups can normally do.”

Alex Soutar – the 13-year-old King Edward VII School pupil who The Diary joins – is certainly enthused.

“It’s brilliant,” he says. “My parents always make driving out to be a chore but I’ve loved it. It’s hard work, actually. There’s so much to it but it’s loads of fun when you get it right.”

Today, he learns his pre-driving checks, starting the car and moving away (“remember your mirror, lad”), dealing with junctions and an emergency stop.

His instructor is David Carter.

“Some people say I must have nerves of steel to get in a car with an 11-year-old at the wheel,” he says. “But, of course, they’re dual control cars so we’re always in control. But, in any case, some of these youngsters are safer drivers than some of the people you see on the roads.”

There’s never been a prang, he adds.

That’s part of the point, as it goes. Young Drivers – which is run at 35 venues across the country – reckon children who have lessons with them are less likely to be in an accident once they start driving for real.

“We encourage responsible driving,” says Stephen, of Royston, again.

“For kids, it’s great fun but parents also get that peace of mind that it actually helps them keep safe in the future.”