Good drivers

Aptitudes run in families. Ours was driving. Passing driving tests first time was obligatory. The requisite gene, I am sure, was my mother's. She rode motorcycles in the war. Father wasn’t very good, but my eldest brother had whatever visual acuity or sense of balance that makes a natural driver. He never lost the keen spatial awareness and skill he showed in a rally car. Or a Challenger tank I put him into in his 70s. Son Craig shows the same sort of natural talent, masterminding yachts at Cowes or in Atlantic races. Daughter Joanna showed it as a teenager on horses. Daughter Charlotte? Well, she kept her head tumbling out of aeroplanes, much as eldest brother did a generation ago.

The gene is on show again. Teddy is only four but, just as you can tell racing drivers with natural class within four laps, he took to driving as naturally as walking. Mercedes-Benz put him in an electric at Brooklands last Friday. Before setting off the kindly man-in-charge asked him what would happen if another child’s car got in his way. Teddy’s appraisal of the danger was instant. “We’d crash.” He observed.

He didn’t crash. Kind man showed him the reverse switch only once and he backed up, counter-steering, as though he’s been doing it all his life. He leaned into corners, obeyed the traffic light and was totally unafraid. His great-grand-mama would have been so proud. But she’d be completely unsurprised. It was as natural as riding a motorcycle.

I started driving seriously aged about 12. All my family did, and I have long been convinced that the foundations of a long and safe career at the wheel are laid long before you are 17. Great credit then, to Mercedes-Benz for giving 118,000 under 16s their first drive at Mercedes-Benz World. These young people have driven around a million miles since the scheme was launched in 2007. The only requirement is to be tall enough to reach the pedals of an A-class. There is guidance from professional driving coaches in 30-minute or one-hour Driving Experiences, which extend to dynamic handling and skid management.

The youngest under-16 to drive at Mercedes-Benz World was a tall-ish seven year old. What a great use for the historic Brooklands track.

Dear Teddy. You could be behind the wheel again inside three or four years.

There was, of course, some serious road-testing to be done. Above is the S600L in Magnetite black metallic with Passion Sahara Biege and black leather. It was, not unexpectedly, superbly smooth and quiet and worth £137,810 (with all the accessories) of anybody’s money. The girls Joanna (Teddy’s mother) on the left and Charlotte were collected from school in press test cars so took in their stride the Bang & Olufsen rear seat entertainment package, Beosound AMG sound surround system with 15 speakers and covers in aluminium and illuminated tweeters. Below is another picture of them I took earlier, with another test car. Charlotte on left this time, Joanna right.

Peugeot student safety award

Commendable initiative from Peugeot and the Department of Transport to support a Student Road Safety Award aimed at 11 to 18 year olds. Unsurprisingly Paul Kerr, whose 17 year old son was killed in a traffic accident had to campaign for years to get up and running. More should be done to get pre-17 year olds safety-aware. I have been long convinced that the best way to do this is to get them behind the wheel. Young driver details a similar notion 25 years ago.

Institute of Advanced Motorists' initiative

This is me. I first passed IAM test in this Austin-Healey Sprite.
Experience teaches distrust of claims that one measure or another will prevent x number of road deaths. Earnest but false campaigns by Brake, the charity that promotes slowness is among the culpable. Today it presents a petition to replace 30mph by 20mph in towns. The Institute of Advanced Motorists’ claim that young driver deaths could be cut by a third if post-test training was made compulsory makes more sense. In Austria it has produced a 30 per cent reduction in fatal accidents to new drivers.

Simon Best, CEO of the IAM says: “We need no reminding that 17–25 year olds — particularly men — proportionally have more crashes and suffer more death and injury than any other group. Despite this, very little is being done to ensure that young people improve their driving after passing the test. The high numbers of them who continue to be killed or seriously injured highlights the need for legislation insisting on post-test training over all kinds of roads; especially rural roads on which young people suffer disproportionately.” *

Young driver, 1960s, me, Glasgow Herald Highland Rally, Aberdeen tests.
This Blog has always advocated better training for young drivers. Pre-17 experience has been invaluable in our family (see older posts). The IAM is writing to the Under Secretary of State for Transport about post-test training, which would not be an unpopular option. There would be no question of taking a new driver off the road if they ’failed’, however. A second phase of short coaching sessions and driving practice off the public highway would be compulsory within a year of passing the test. In Austria, legal requirements for novices for further assessment have had outstanding results.

The IAM is launching Momentum in the New Year, offering young drivers a low-cost assessment by an IAM examiner to improve confidence, raise awareness, and reduce risk. What a good idea. I have to declare an interest. As a journalist I first passed the IAM test in the 1960s, repeating it three times more for features I was writing, although I never formally joined the Institute. Passing the test was not the important bit. Observed drives with real IAM members mattered far more. I thought I was an OK driver until my first mentor, Bill Jackson of the Glasgow IAM asked me what was on a road sign I had just passed. It was a tutorial in observation I still apply. Making sure drivers look where they are going is better than 20mph limits for safeguarding GrandTeddy. (see older blogs)
*Rural roads – the biggest killer: IAM Motoring Trust

Beautiful GrandTeddy - well worth a Preservation Order

Young Drivers

I can only vouch personally for maybe a couple of dozen young people who have driven safely for years, following experience at the wheel before 17. Like my brothers I was driving from about 11. By 13 I was driving on quiet roads. Our children, except perhaps Charlotte, were all desperate to get into the driving seat as soon as they could reach the pedals. They are now exemplary drivers. It can’t be coincidence.

Today the Association of British Drivers has drawn attention to dismal Jimmies at the BBC, ROSPA and the police, critical of Young Driver training sponsored by SEAT, Admiral Insurance and Pirelli. No surprise the PC BBC fretting, but ROSPA was not always so negative. The police really ought to know better. When I wrote The Sunday Times column on Earlydrive it had support among others from Cheshire Road Safety Unit. Charlotte and Anne have both had nearly 20 years without accidents, Anne’s mileage rather higher than Charlotte’s, Joanna and Jane likewise. Number One son Craig drives across Continents. He has also navigated large yachts safely across oceans but that is something else.

I nearly got The Sunday Times into promoting a nationwide Earlydrive scheme in the 1990s with sponsorship from a major manufacturer, which took fright over worries about instructors’ proximity to young female drivers. Let us hear support for the SEAT Admiral Pirelli Young Drivers initiative. Earlydrive and others set a fine example. Note to Craig, etc. Don’t break the safety spell now…

Find the Association of British Drivers on Facebook and Twitter.

BBC Story - "Fears as children aged 11 take driving lessons"

Young Driver