When I heard about Young Driver courses where children could learn to drive and then spotted that under 10s had their own version, I realised that it would make a perfect Christmas present for N and his cousin. Things didn’t work out getting the cousin a voucher. But then I was offered a review session. N went on his Firefly driving experience in Bicester just before his 7th birthday.
What age can child have Young Driver lessons?
If you’ve not come across Young Driver before, they’re an organisation who offer driving lessons for under 17s across the UK. The ethos is that teaching children to drive before they’re of legal road driving age, they are more aware of the safety aspect, have had more driving time, and are therefore safer on the roads once they pass their test. Young Drivers take 10-17 year olds out on tracks in normal cars. In some locations younger children, age 5-10 can try a smaller car – the Firefly.
Booking a Firefly Young Driver lesson
I have to admit, before the review session came up, it was painful trying to book. I’d been looking out for Sunday sessions at one of four locations near us, of which there were few. But even the Saturday sessions were fully booked. The Firefly cars go round the different venues all over the country, it means only a certain number of dates get released each time, so they do book up fast. Not all Young Driver venues have the Firefly car – our nearest venue stopped doing them so instead we managed to book at Bicester Heritage 30 minutes away. I’d tried to book online, so it might be easier if you phone to book.
If you’re booking for a gift, you can book specific sessions or a gift voucher, and I could print out the booking to give to N. He was so excited to see what it was. Give a boy a vehicle to drive and he’ll be happy.
Young driver lessons – on the day
Bicester Heritage is easy to get to, on the edge of Bicester. As you drive in you see lots of old vehicles – we’re going to have to return on one of the open days. The road track is where the normal cars go round and this was packed. I was expecting a handful of cars going round, but no, there were a lot more. N wanted to know why he couldn’t go in those cars. Er, you’re 4-5 years too young.
The Firefly track was set up in an area near the car park. It’s just a cordoned off area with cone set up for the road. Road signs and a mini roundabout are there too, although none of the children were taking any note of the actual signs.
Sessions are 20 minutes long and staggered at 10 minute intervals with 2 children driving at once. On arrival you register your child, and fill in a safety form, then they’re on. There’s an ‘instructor’ each to tell the child about the car, and how to drive it. They go in with the child until they’re confident the child isn’t going to run out of the track area or crash into anything, and then a parent can swap places and be driven round.
N’s instructor took him round 1.5 laps, stopping at various points to show what and where he could go. Then it was my turn to get in. I was expecting him to be with the instructor for longer, but she was happy he was safe in it. (unlike the other child going round at the same time – his parents obviously didn’t want to get in with him – he was a little gungho with his driving, going straight over cones and not really looking out for signs or the other car).
Even though I’ve been watching N drive vehicles of some sort since he was 2 ½ years old (battery gator, quad bike, with help, his godfather’s car), it’s still strange to see your 6 year old driving a miniature car.
The Fireflies are electric powered, with an ignition key, forward and reverse button, and accelerator pedal. I’d been expecting a brake pedal, but they just had to lift their foot up to stop the car. Really there wasn’t much to go wrong.
N absolutely loved it. I’m not sure he needed to hang out the side, going round the corners like a racing driver. But he could have stayed in the car for another 20 minutes given the choice.
Most of the session N just drove round and round, up and down the different ‘roads’ and off the roundabout. We saw the other boy being talked through reverse parking so N decided he wanted a go. Even with me in the car and in the way, he knew which way to turn the wheel, reversed back and straightened up perfectly line up in the spot. The other ‘instructor’ spotted him and came over to see how well he could do it. I got out, and he did it himself perfectly again. She was pretty impressed. I suppose there’s not many of his age who can manoeuvre a car like that at the first time of trying.
After N’s session was over, he parked up and turned the car off. He was then given his own driving licence which he was very proud of (supposedly it’s better than his friend’s driving licence from Legoland, because this one looks more like a proper licence).
The verdict about Firefly Young Driver lessons
N loved it. Every child we saw finishing had a huge grin, and parent passengers all seemed happy too. With speeds up to 10mph, the junior driving experience certainly gives children a feel for what they can start off in before moving up to proper cars when they’re older.
The price for the Firefly session isn’t too bad at just over £20. For 20 minutes of driving I think that’s reasonable.
I think my expectation was a little too high. I’d expected more than a drive round without any indicators or brakes etc. Maybe with the children using the road signs and being told to stop and start, and start to learn some of the road rules. I’d also expected a larger track for them.
For N it was 20 minutes of fun, just driving round and a chance to take me with him. For other children who’ve never driven any vehicle then the basic driving may be more of a challenge so maybe that’s why it is still so basic rather than having more controls.
I think Young Driver are providing a great opportunity for older children, and for the younger ones, it’s some fun to start off their interest. I just wish they’d had things like this when I was a child. A pedal go kart really isn’t the same!
Have your children enjoyed something like a Young Driver lesson before?
Disclosure: We were given a review lesson for the purpose of review. All words and opinions are my own.
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