Sunday, 31 March 2013

Don't punish younger drivers. Just give them a Luton van

LOTS of people in cardigans have been using this last week to call for even tougher restrictions on those pesky young drivers who keep passing their test and then crashing.

Among the suggestions being bandied about by the bores-that-be are restricting them to cars as woefully underpowered as the one-litre Kia Picanto I tried the other day, banning them from venturing onto Britain’s highways and byways once the sun goes down, and bringing in yoof-specific drink-driving laws that’ll land them in prison for twenty years if they’re caught in the possession of wine gums.

In fact, the only sensible idea that hasn’t come from someone who’d otherwise suggest reintroducing National Service is tougher, more plentiful driving lessons, and a harder driving test to match. It’s mad, for instance, that my newly-qualified mate can freely venture onto the M6 at rush hour, despite not having had a single lesson on motorway driving!

I, however, have found an even better way to encourage careful driving after moving house last week. Insist everyone does their driving test – and all the lessons leading up to it – in a Ford Transit Luton van packed to the brim with their most prized possessions.

Driving something the size of a student flat is a little nerve-racking at the best of times, but knowing it’s weighed down with your furniture, your DVDs, your carefully accumulated copies of Evo magazine and the IKEA bookcases you gingerly screwed together on an idle Sunday afternoon does tend to focus your mind on driving more carefully.

The windy West Lancashire lanes I use to get to the motorway network – lanes I’d normally enjoy driving – were mildly terrifying, not only because a Luton van is so long and so wide, but because the cargo in the back is yours. It also encourages you, thanks to its appetite for diesel, to go easy on the throttle, and if you can park one, you can park pretty much anything.

Make cocky, over-confident new drivers – like me not that long ago – do their lessons and tests in vans fully loaded with their prized personal belongings and they’ll learn more about defensive driving and not taking risks than any 1950s-style motoring curfews.

You never know. There might even be a few less hot hatches wrapped around trees as a result…

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