Eighty years ago this week, the driving test was introduced in Great Britain for the first time.
They became compulsory on June 1, 1935 and since, more than fifty million have been taken, for many a rite of passage from youth into adulthood.
But now young motorists can steal a march on their teenage rivals with the introduction of Young Driver courses across South Yorkshire.
Aimed at 11-17 year-olds, the courses, which are held in Doncaster and Sheffield, give youngsters a chance to drive a real car in a safe but realistic environment to teach essential motoring skills that help to put those behind the wheel in good stead for when they come to have a bash at real driving lessons.
So it was in a slightly blustery but sunny car park at Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium that my 11-year-old son Luc found himself perched nervously behind the wheel of a bright red, brand new gleaming Skoda Citigo.
“I’ve done Mario Kart on the Wii loads of times,” he informed me on the short drive to the stadium, “so I think I should be alright.”
Naturally, driving a real car is about as far removed from video games as you can get - and by the time the lesson was ready to begin, some of that bravado had ebbed away a little bit.
Instructor Louise Ruder helped to put him at ease though and said: “Youngsters seem to absorb it more easily at a younger age. The courses give young drivers a taste of what real driving is like.”
With a cushion to help him peer over the steering wheel, Luc listened intently as Louise explained the checks drivers have to undertake before pulling away.
And then, without further ado, he was off, confidently powering forward, zig-zagging around the dozens of plastic cones littering the car park and designed to create a challenging course.
Naturally, with Louise with dual controls at his side, there’s no issues over safety and before long, he’s making numerous laps, picking up speed and attempting gear changes.
Being a relative latecomer to driving (I didn’t take my own test until I was 30) the memories of the old “mirror, signal, manoeuvre” return come flooding back, but this has been replaced with a new code - prepare, observe, move, or in short POM, which Luc, whose experience of motoring is largely borne out of watching episodes of Top Gear, seems to master with relative ease, even if applying the handbrake is a little more taxing for the hands of an 11-year-old.
“You are doing really well,” Louise informs him. “There’s a lot to think about all at once,” he replies, as several other young drivers whizz round the car park, under the watchful eye of proud parents, capturing the moment on camera.
Having mastered weaving his way around cones, changing gear and braking, Louise utters the two words that can still send even the most experienced of motorists into a cold sweat. “Parallel parking,” she announces. “Should we have a go at that?”
Having failed one of my four (yes, four) tests tackling that horrendous manoeuvre, my mind fills with images of nudged kerbs, grinding gears and exasperated other motorists waiting patiently for me to get out of their road.
But proving exactly what Louise had said earlier about young minds absorbing things more quickly, Luc tackles it with ease, executing a perfect manoeuvre - no scuffed tyres, no 27 laboured attempts - spot on, first time.
With that headache out of the way, its onto the other little test that can make drivers wince - the bay park. I think most will recall the frustration of gently reversing between the lines, convinced we’d nailed it, only to find ourselves wedged firmly between two bays.
However, Luc obviously hasn’t inherited his driving skills from his dad (although I can claim credit for him picking up the bad habit of crossing his hands on the wheel) by again, getting it right on the very first go.
“What score would you give yourself,” said Louise, as the hour-long lesson draws to a close. “Seven out of 10,” he replies, unsurely. “I would score you better than that,” she said. “You did brilliantly, really well.”
Lesson over, I jokingly suggest Luc drives my car home - and there’s a mischievious glint in his eye as he realises he could probably give it a good go.
“That was epic,” he said. “I would love to do that again.”
And surely that’s the best possible praise for anything which improves safety on our roads.
* Young Driver courses are held Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium and Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground and start at £34.95.
* Young Driver was established in 2009 with the aim of teaching youngsters to drive over a longer period, therefore encouraging a safer generation of new drivers at 17.
* Anyone over the age of 11 and above 1.42m can get behind the wheel of a dual control Skoda Citigo with a fully qualified driving instructor.
* Lessons are on private property, developed into a realistic road system complete with road signs, junctions and car parks.
* 210,000 youngsters have now been through the Young Driver experience. There are 34 venues to choose from across the UK.
* For details go to www.youngdriver.eu or call 0844 371 9010
We have FIVE Young Driver lessons to be won - in our great online competition.
We have teamed up with Young Driver to give away 5 x 30 minute lessons to five young drivers worth £34.95 each.
All you have to do is answer the question below and then send your answer, name and address details and the name and age of the child wishing to take part to firstname.lastname@example.org by no later than June 10.
Question: Where in Doncaster are Young Driver lessons held?
Terms and conditions:
1. Five winners will each receive a voucher for a 30-minute Young Driver lesson. The winner can choose a venue and time to suit them from all times/dates and locations available at the time of booking.
2. Vouchers are valid for nine months from date of issue.
3. To take part in Young Driver, the participant must be aged 11 or over and more than 1.4 metres tall.
4. There is no cash alternative for the prize and no alternative will be offered. Prizes are non-transferable.