Are intensive driving lessons a good thing?

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Originally published February 28th 2013

Teenagers long to drive – and how often do you come across a patient teenager?

But whether you’re the youngster itching to get out on the road or an older relative perhaps with responsibility for helping the teen to get his or her licence, you need to decide whether to learn slowly and steadily or intensively, over the course of a few short days.

The world spinning the way it does these days, many people are eschewing the traditional two-or-three-lessons-a-week-over-the-course-of-several-months route in favour of week-long intensive driving courses (or ‘crash courses’, as they are amusingly termed) to save time – and also money.

A UK learner will average 47 hours of instructor-led driving lessons and 20 hours of private practise before taking their test. With the average cost of lessons being £22 a pop, learners can now expect to pay in excess of £1,000 before even booking their £62 practical exam.

Compare this to a five-day course at a driving school costing just shy of £600 including the test. So you can see the savings that can be made if you choose to take a quick-fix option. My great-nephew (yes, I really am that old, although my brother started young) took a week-long intensive driving course…

How he chose to learn

At the age of 18, Alex decided it was a good time to unleash himself on Britain's roads. After successfully overcoming what he saw as the relatively small hurdle of a theory test, it was time, he said, to start burning some rubber.

He wanted to get the test done as quickly as possible and plumped for the five-day intensive course. The driving school didn't lie, it was very intense! He drove six hours a day, Monday to Friday, and had his test on the Saturday.

Shock to the system

Having had the dubious honour of changing Alex’s nappies what seemed like a couple of years back, it was a shock to think he could be up and driving within a week. Driving. On his own. On the same roads as me. Blimey.

Alex said he quickly got to grips with the concept of moving up and down the gears and staring at oncoming traffic in the hope they didn't decide to change lanes at the last minute.

Roundabouts remained a mystery until about day three, but he persevered and ended up being comfortable with pretty much every aspect of driving.

He soon mastered the main manoeuvres (reverse parking excepted) and started to build road confidence – key to success on the highway. And the tutoring was spot-on, taking him through exactly what he needed to know to pass the practical test.

From checking the oil to crossing dual carriageways he was moved through the syllabus in quick-march style. Is that conducive to deep and secure knowledge for something as important as driving?

Hmmm, I remain to be convinced. Especially as, despite being supremely confident, Alex failed miserably! Turned out that, in his case at least, an 18-year-old with five days’ driving under his belt does not have enough experience to hit the roads on his own.

After failing his first test, he decided it wasn't cost effective to attempt another straight away. It was three years later when he mustered the energy and the means to give driving another whirl. After only a few lessons under his belt, he took the test and passed.

What’s the verdict on crash courses?

Throughout Alex’s experience, one thing really hit home for me - no wonder car insurance premiums are so high for young drivers. The statistics show that 40% of 17-year-old male drivers have an accident in their first six months of driving.

This is no surprise if people can take to the road unsupervised after just five days behind the wheel. Insurers can’t use gender to charge young men more than young women these days, of course, but those statistics can’t be spirited away by any amount of pronouncements by the European Court of Justice.

The problem with intensive courses isn't just the small amount of experience you have on the road come test day, but the general stress of it all. Being a fairly chilled back lad, Alex undoubtedly found concentrating for six hours a day solid and trying not to make one wrong move was pretty tough on the mind and body.

Not enough experience

There's a reason why teachers always tell students to start revising months before an exam – it's the best way to remember things.

Spending just five days learning to drive isn’t long enough to consider anyone qualified or safe. This way of learning is not only unfair on a young person but potentially dangerous for other road users.

Attempting to start from scratch and then 30 hours later being legally qualified to drive from Southampton to Glasgow seems a little… well, reckless.

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