Skip advert
Advertisement
Features

What do young drivers think of electric cars?

We meet a bunch of next-generation drivers as they get to grips with electric power for the first time

For many enthusiasts, the urge to start driving was all-consuming from an early age. Anyone else remember charging around the playground at school making ‘brumm-brumm’ noises, holding an imaginary steering wheel in their right hand, and changing gears with their left? No wonder my A-level results suffered...

But pretend electric cars of the future won’t need to be revved furiously by driving legends in the making. Does this mean tomorrow’s kids will instead be running around the playground making whirring noises, with one hand on an imaginary wheel and the other holding a smartphone? Or is the magic of driving as we know it evaporating like spilt petrol as far as today’s young people are concerned? To find out, we needed some willing kids, and what better opportunity than an aptly named Young Driver training event at the Newbury Showground in Berkshire?

Young Driver has been operating for around 13 years, having snowballed from its early days in one corner of a car park at the Birmingham NEC. It now runs courses at 70 sites around the UK, using more than 600 instructors, and has delivered over a million lessons to kids of all ages.

Advertisement - Article continues below

To find out what the next generation of drivers thinks about electric cars, we caught up with four youngsters eager to trade their petrol-powered driving school cars for a brief go in a battery-powered equivalent.

Evie Malaperiman, age 16

“All I want to do is to be able to drive and have my freedom,” says Evie, inspired in part by her 18-year- old brother, who’s already able to drive her around. She’s done Young Driver sessions before, and is here today to help build more confidence so things “come more naturally when I start road driving lessons”.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Having got the hang of changing gears in a manual Vauxhall Corsa, Evie is keen to sample the electric alternative, and is subsequently “quite happy” to let the automatic EV powertrain take out some of the effort.

“I like how you can speed up in the electric car, it just goes, and it’s so quiet as well. If I was choosing a car myself in an ideal world where prices are the same, I think it would be electric, because it’s better for the planet and goes really fast,” she says with a laugh. “It’s just so much smoother, and it’s better for the environment and everybody wants that.”

Advertisement - Article continues below

She’s not giving up on petrol-powered lessons though. “Now? I think I’m going to continue with the manual gears, because even though it’s obviously fading out, I think it’s still a good skill for a driver to have.”

Penny Page, age 14

Penny has been training with Young Driver since she was 11. She thought it would be helpful when she was older, so she could focus more on roadcraft instead of the basics of learning to drive. “I’m not really into cars, but I really enjoy driving,” she says. She’s notched up around 14 or 15 lessons in the manual Corsa.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

After a spin behind the wheel of its electric twin, she declares it “really fun”, and is interested to compare differences such as the quietness of the EV, and “how quickly it can go from standstill to full speed”.

Based on her first experience, and given the choice, Penny would pick an EV after passing her test. “I want to get a car as soon as I can and I would like to get an electric one. But because they’re a bit more expensive, that may not be the most viable option,” she says.

Paul Martin, age 16

Paul had his first lesson aged 14, with a few more the following year, and says he was really excited when the opportunity first came up via a birthday present. Both his dad and brother-in-law are car enthusiasts and it’s rubbed off on Paul, who enjoys the physical aspects of driving the petrol-engined Corsa with its traditional manual gearbox.

Advertisement - Article continues below

“Personally I enjoy the fun of changing gears, because you can definitely feel the car a bit more. I also think you get to understand driving a bit more with a manual car, and how it is with the road, rather than just putting the pedal down in the electric one and having it do it all for you,” he says.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Paul finds the electric Corsa “kind of weird because it’s silent”, and thinks he’ll be buying a manual car when the time comes. But he agreed with the other learners about some aspects of the EV experience.

“It is more relaxing, I think, and somewhat safer to drive because you don’t have to worry about changing gears all the time. In years to come it will be a very good option, but I think at the moment I still prefer a manual car,” he says.

Sam Bennet, age 17

Sam started Young Driver a couple of months before turning 17, after her parents suggested it would be good practice. She’s not a car enthusiast, and none of her family are, either. “I’ve had six or seven lessons,” she tells us, “and it’s really good learning the basics here so there’s less to learn when you start on the road.”

Advertisement - Article continues below

While she admits that changing gear was a struggle at first, after getting comfortable with it she enjoys being behind the wheel. However, she’s definitely sold on the EV’s different attributes.

“It was quite weird to start off with because you’ve got no clutch. There was less to do, so it gives you more time to adjust to what’s going on.”

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Sam also likes the EV’s acceleration “because you just take off”, and she would definitely be considering an EV over a petrol car if money was no object. “I wouldn’t miss doing the gears,” she tells us.

What is Young Driver?

My own two kids are usually glued to the sofa like a pair of Just Stop Oil protesters on a motorway gantry, and just as awkward to dislodge. But they were eager to swap their racing games for some ‘real driving’ on our visit to Young Driver, and I was eager to find out more about the programme.

My kids were booked in for lessons in the regular Corsas, and on arrival, proceedings looked reassuringly orderly as the cars slowly beetled around the network of tarmac roads. I left my two excitable novices – aged 11 and 13 – in the hands of their individual instructors and chatted with Mark Beaumont, the lead instructor at Newbury.

All Young Driver instructors teach adults on the roads, and Mark himself plies his trade on the streets of Weston-Super-Mare. Today at Newbury, he explains why the showground lends itself brilliantly to teaching kids. “You’ve got the roads, but you’ve got grass or gravel next to it, so you don’t have the worry of pavements,” he says. “We’ve got roundabouts, give-ways, no entries and one ways.” He also points out areas set up for manoeuvres: “there’s a pull up on the right and reverse, parallel parking, bay parking forwards and backwards, and emergency stops. So we can do everything here that we can do out on the road.”

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

While it all sounds like terrific fun, the kids aren’t just playing. Mark confirms it’s vital to teach the youngsters to do things exactly as they’ll need to on the road in later life.

“We teach in exactly the same way, but we can do it a lot quicker because we’re not confined by the rules of the road. When I get a pupil in a car for the first time, I aim to get them pulling away by themselves within three minutes, and that is easily achievable,” he says. It’s not just about avoiding bad habits, either, he reckons: “We might have someone come to these lessons who lives locally, and they might want us to be their road instructor. So if we don’t teach them the correct way, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. We have to teach them exactly the correct way to do it, so that when they go onto the road, it’s a seamless transition.”

With so many young learners involved, it’s not surprising there’s a range of motivations for getting behind the wheel, and the Young Driver programme caters for novices as young as four years old, who can sample its Firefly Sport electric roadsters. If youngsters want to try something a bit different outside the regular training programme, they can also sample classic cars, off-road driving, a Bentley limo or a fire engine.

While they’re clearly enjoying themselves, are there more pragmatic reasons for teaching your kids to drive at an early age? “It’s much easier to teach a child at 10 or 11 to drive than it is a 17 year old,” Mark says. “These kids at a younger age, their brains are like sponges. They absorb all this information and it’s staggering how quickly they pick up on things.”

That difference is one of the things that makes training young learners so rewarding. “I could probably earn more money doing road lessons, but I do this because I can see the difference it makes,” Mark tells us.

My own two kids return from their one-hour sessions gleefully relating their exploits, and proudly clutching their driver diaries, which record their achievements. They’re keen to do more, and having been impressed by the professionalism and friendliness of the Young Driver team, it’s likely we’ll be signing up for another lesson soon. Although that fire engine experience looks tempting...

Click here for our list of the best first cars for new drivers...

Skip advert
Advertisement
Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

Skip advert
Advertisement

Most Popular

Car Deal of the Day: sensational BMW M2 is a bargain at this price!
BMW M2 - front tracking
News

Car Deal of the Day: sensational BMW M2 is a bargain at this price!

Our Day of the Day for 18 April is the formidable BMW M2 performance car
18 Apr 2024
New 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe goes on sale with specs and prices announced
New Hyundai Santa Fe - front
News

New 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe goes on sale with specs and prices announced

The big, bold seven-seater starts from £46,775, and is available with full-hybrid and plug-in hybrid power
18 Apr 2024
Best small SUVs to buy 2024
Best small SUVs - header image
Best cars & vans

Best small SUVs to buy 2024

There's a huge range of small SUVs out there, so we’ve picked out the very best
19 Apr 2024