When N was 5 he did a Firefly Young Driver lesson. We always said he’d go back and learn once he was tall enough in a proper car. This year I knew he’d definitely be tall enough so I booked him one of the lessons for Christmas and he had his first Young Driver experience in a manual Vauxhall Corsa.
N can already drive a car. Being on the farm means he’s learnt in the old Discovery up the farm track, but does struggle to reach the pedals. My brother’s taken him out in his old ‘truck’ which is a better size for N. But he really loved it at my best friend’s parents, as her dad had got hold of an old Punto for him to teach my godson about. When we were staying, N got to drive it around their tracks. Great fun, and good for him to learn in different vehicles with different people encouraging and teaching him.
It’s all very well learning and practising on the farm, but ask he gets older it’s a nobrainer to get him to understand more about driving, what’s safe and correct, and to practice with a proper driving instructor.
What is Young Driver?
There are Young Driver venues across the country, based generally at airfields or large open spaces where they can set up roads and simulated driving features. It means 10-17 year olds get to learn to drive and experience being in charge of a car ahead of taking their driving test.
Teens who’ve taken a series of lessons have fewer accidents after passing their test, and pass taking fewer standard driving lessons. Young Driver lessons are with qualified instructors, and they can choose a 30 minute or 1 hour lesson. They tend to drive Corsas, and there’s the opportunity to pay for video footage as well.
You can buy gift certificates, but I found it hard to find a date at any of our 3 nearest centres, so decided I’d just get a specific lesson. If you go for the first lesson of the day sometimes they do early bird pricing, as well as there being extra discounts sent round on email. I chose an hour lesson because I thought 30 minutes would be too short given I was sure they’d end up doing a lot of talking before driving. W
What happens at a Young Driver lesson
On arrival you register and for your first time are given your Young Driver checklist book. This means that each time you drive, the instructor can mark off your progress against the different skills and manoeuvres you practice and become proficient in. You’re also given your instructor’s name you’ve been allocated and their number.
There were 12 cars and instructors when we were there. Being first slot of the day, we all waited, then the instructors held their number up for the kids to go and meet them. If you arrive for later slots you wait until the instructor’s finished the previous session, then they come and find you.
It’s straight into the driver’s seat, and it was only a short time until N was able to drive off. All the cars are dual control, so even the youngest and total beginners are able to start driving fast.
At first all the cars gradually set off in the same direction, but then they’re taken off in different directions. This means they can be flexible according to the previous young driver experience of the child.
As well as basic driving round the track, following or passing other cars, there are coned areas to practice their steering. There’s also coned shapes set up for parking practice and a box for 3 point turns.
We were at Bicester Heritage so the track or road is on the airfield, so there’s plenty of space for all the cars to stay spread out as needed. They are able to practice approaching and turning into junctions where other cars may also be, so it’s not too far away from a normal (if quieter) road situation.
N was checked on his steering through the cones a couple of times. He did take out one of the cones in the (pretty small) 3 point turn ‘box’. They didn’t hear it get caught but the instructor said it was his fault for not hearing it being hit. He wasn’t the only one, as another cone had already been knocked over too by someone else. They’re only small ones so probably not visible in the car.
I didn’t see it as it must have been further away down the track, but he also had a go at parallel parking which he enjoyed.
Once the hour was up, he drove back to the start and parked up. The instructors always do a short debrief to parents on what was covered in the lesson. It was nice to hear how well N had done. The instructor said his steering and control was good, and that the previous experience driving had obviously helped a lot. He encouraged more of that which is handy, as N’s keen to get back in a vehicle.
Are Young Driver lessons worth doing
It is expensive to do Young Driver lessons. I don’t know the cost nowadays of standard driving lessons, but I expect it’s cheaper than Young Driver.
Young Driver lessons, even if they’re only occasional, are a great way to increase a child’s confidence before they have to start going out on the road. They also learn the basic controls as well as manoeuvres. They enable older teens to be further along in preparing for a driving test.
I can see us using them as a birthday or Christmas additional present and doing them annually until N is old enough to do proper road lessons. They’re certainly a great gift as a one off treat too. Adding on the additional payment for in car video means they can review what they’ve learnt afterwards.
My only concern if N was older and doing more regular lessons would be that the instructor would be different each time. At least I’m presuming so. That might be an advantage for some kids – if you don’t gel with one, you’ll get on better with another. But it means they don’t remember any issues you have each time which you’d get with the same instructor.
It’s certainly very efficient how it’s run, and the website was easy to use.
As spectators don’t expect anything special. You can return to your car while your child drives, but most parents on the day we were there just stood around to watch. There’s no cafe at Bicester Heritage where the Young Driver is held, but are the registration stand, they do sell basic refreshments – bottles of water and sweets or crisps.
N got out of the car raving about what a good time he’d had. He thought his instructor was excellent, and he was pleased to have tried lots of different things. Despite it being his first lesson, quite a few of the skills in his booklet were ticked off from several of the categories. Next time he’ll have to remember to take the book back again, so he can get it updated on what they cover in that lesson.
Since his Young Driver experience, I’ve got regular marketing emails about extra lesson slots being made available and occasionally special offers. It should mean that booking further lessons will be easier as I’ll know about them opening up faster than those just going to the website.
Have your children ever done Young Driver lessons?