Since his early days, my son Miles has loved cars. Now, instead of pushing toy ones around on the carpet or arguing to sit in the front with his older brother Owen, he had the chance to take the wheel himself when we tried out the Young Driver’s lesson on a Sunday morning in Milton Keynes.
Sponsored by Admiral car insurance, the Young Driver initiative is run with ŠKODA, who provide their popular three-door Citigo vehicles for the 30-minute/1-hour test drives. As we checked in and awaited the start, we could see lots of similar-aged teenagers manoeuvering their way around the cones and lanes on the concourse, set up for the day in front of one of the town’s high schools.
It all seemed like good fun, but despite the early bravado nervous anticipation was the mood when 13-year-old Miles and his brother Owen took the wheel of the Citigo to sample driving in a safe environment. For this pair of die-hard Top Gear fans (who know far more about car specs and engine sizes than is healthy) this was a golden opportunity to burst some myths and finally get to speak from experience. I immediately liked the fact that guardians could opt to sit in the back; not only did this reassure Miles, but it also helps grasp the content of a driving lesson, so many years after having been in that position.
Calm and quietly-spoken, our instructor Jonathan began by giving Miles an appraisal of what to do before you turn on the engine (a routine that was recapped at the end in the form of a quiz). He also stressed the importance of the clutch, focusing the early part of the lesson on this apparatus and the brake pedal. The reason quickly became apparent when Miles, five minutes in, asked politely: “Am I EVER going to get to press the accelerator?” I think they understand boys and cars!
Achieving clutch control was the main task of the lesson and Miles had several goes at bringing this to 'biting point', changing gear and putting on the handbrake as well as one or two practices at stalling. Taking away the embarrassment of stalling was particularly valuable, as the instructor’s calm reassurance put my son at ease and gave him the confidence to do a nifty reverse manoeuvre and park between two lines of cones – not bad for a first go!
The size of the Citigo – almost half the size of an average saloon – allows for an excellent turning circle and good cornering, both of which could boost the confidence of the novice driver. Meanwhile, fluid gears and the easy-reach mirrors and signalling levers make manual manoeuvres very straightforward. Both sons managed gear changing easily and they liked the high-backed front seats (though Miles needed to get used to reaching back a bit further for the seat belt). Speaking to older brother Owen, 15, it was obvious that his age and ability were also rewarded and in his lesson he was able to reach second gear, plus do all the tasks without once stalling.
Overall, the instructors were clear and measured and I noted the level of concentration both boys gave to the task. Their ability was recorded in a little diary they can use for their next lesson (which they are very keen to have!). The recap test at the end was also age-appropriate and Miles was given little prompts to help him remember what he did at the start. There were about 10 other cars doing the same lesson and working their way around the course – which includes an optional cone slalom test – but at no time did it feel unsafe, as each person is kept on track by their instructor who has dual controls. Owen, 15, said it he thought it was good to know what it 'felt' like to push the pedals and deal with the clutch. Miles, 13, said he had not realised how difficult it was to drive a car. Job done I say!
Above all the Young Driver lesson offers a great early experience at car driving and an excellent lesson in concentration. It’s also a chance for us parents to size up new cars on the market and I thought the Citigo, which retails from just over £8,000, offers both sturdiness and style, without pandering to the fashion stakes of some of its popular small car competitors. Overall, I hope this lesson instills some good pointers for safe driving for Miles and his brother. Statistics show two out of 10 newly-qualified drivers crash within six months of passing their test, rising to 40% for 17-year-old males. For those who have taken a Young Driver course, the rate of accidents in the same period drops by more than half, to fewer than one in ten. So I hope that further down the line when my two take to the wheel for real, this lesson will remind them that antics in films like Need for Speed and Fast and Furious really are only appropriate for the big screen.
Young driver lessons are available from the age of 11 and start at £31 for a half hour. There are several locations around the UK and lots of options for lesson times. It makes a nice alternative to the usual activities in holiday time and there are party options available too.
To arrange a lesson go to: https://www.youngdriver.eu/
Find out more about the ŠKODA Citigo