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All About Our Young Driver Training Programme 'Headstart'

In this interview our instructor John Graham shares his experience and insights about our young driver training programme ‘Headstart’.

John, what is the “Headstart” programme?

Headstart is for 14-year-olds and older who are too young for a provisional licence but cannot wait to start driving to gain a little bit of experience or for a bit of fun. For young people who are approaching 17, I found that Headstart definitely gives them a lot more confidence in actually starting their (driving) lessons. We go around the training area which they then seem to be more comfortable with as they start on the roads and coping with cars, kerbs and everything. There’s enough to think about having to learn the car controls from scratch let alone other road users! 

Do you see that young people become overconfident before their lessons as a result of this training?

No, not at all. Overconfidence rarely crops up but by then they have been driving for a while and have a bit of experience. When it comes to Headstart and even the start of the lessons you don’t often see it - maybe 1 in 10 young people. 

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What added advantage do participants of Headstart have compared to those who have not had this type of training?

I’ll give you an example. I had a pupil who came along for four Headstart sessions in the lead up to her 17th birthday. This girl was really keen to get driving so she really made an effort to come on to the Headstart sessions whenever she could. Because of that we started her actual lessons on the day of her 17th birthday and on the first lesson we were straight onto roundabouts because it was really the one thing we hadn’t covered in the training area.  We had covered moving and stopping – stopping at the exact line as I showed her mimicking junctions. We’d done quite a few reverse manoeuvres where she could reverse bay park. We mimicked a parallel park when one of our other trainers was in the training area. She had even reversed round a corner, so when she started her lessons it was exactly two months to the day when she passed her test with zero minors. It is all down to all the dedication coming from the pupil.

Also, following her experience, I had quite a number of other pupils coming on to the Headstart sessions and then taking lessons.  I often ask youngsters, if they had a Headstart (or a similar experience) before coming to the lessons, how are driving lessons different compared to their Headstart sessions.  The answer I usually get is there’s more traffic, there are kerbs and parked cars to deal with. And then I ask “How do you think you would get on if it was your first lesson and you hadn’t done Headstart?” And their usual answer is “Oh, my God – I’d be so scared”.

So even if a Headstart session is only two hours, they build a good bit of knowledge especially with clutch control, so they don’t feel so much pressure from other drivers on the road, they don’t feel like they are “getting in their way”, which is what I hear a lot. So it is a definite benefit. A lot of pupils came to driving lessons with me as a result of Roadwise Headstart training.

Do you feel that pupils who had a Headstart session(s) progress faster through their learner driving journey?

It is definitely a good launch for pupils if they’d already done the basics in the training area. Not all of them get through the lessons at the same speed as they all have individual learning patterns, attend a different number of sessions and have different duration gaps in between the sessions. If we can pick up in lessons where we have left off from Headstart, then it definitely benefits pupils.

Do you think the length of the Roadwise Headstart programme is right for young people?

Definitely, I think an hour would be too short. Two hours definitely allows you to get through things a lot further. For example, with some pupils you could spend half an hour alone on the steering exercise, which is another good thing about the Headstart, as it is really hard to find somewhere to practice doing a figures of eight. You need quite a bit of land to practice that.  That’s one of the first things we get into after they’ve done the move off exercise. For some pupils the steering ‘pull-push’ technique ‘clicks’ in immediately, with some it takes a little bit longer. It is much more difficult to do that on the roads, you have to know of the area which is suitable to do that. So definitely two hours is just right for a session. It passes quickly especially when pupils are having fun. 

Why would you recommend this programme to young people?

It is in the name – it is a ‘Headstart’. Not just that – I would have loved to have done it myself when I was approaching my driving age, because I just couldn’t wait. At least the training gives you a little taste of what’s to come. Even if it is not for everyone approaching 17, it is suitable for 14-year olds - ‘Let’s have a little bit of fun, it’s going to be good’.  The training area we are using just now is huge and it gives you the sense of freedom. When I meet a youngster, I say ‘We’ve got all this whole car park, it’s all yours’, unless there is another trainer there at the same time. Even then it is a wide open space that still provides a sense of freedom. 

It is not a driving lesson when they have to understand every single little thing. Because you have that space and freedom to drive with no other road users, you allow them to learn through having fun.  If they are not doing the steering technique correctly or finding that clutch bite just right, we can stop, we can work on that without other cars flying past them or the danger of some of their pals seeing and things like that which is an important part.

Do pupils worry about their friends seeing them driving?

Yes, definitely. Especially when they are driving past their school and the school is coming out. I had a pupil today and she was driving past her school at the lunch time. I could see she was looking to make sure that none of her friends were there. It’s ‘cool’ to drive but it is not ‘cool’ to learn. 

What do they say after the training?

Usually they enjoy it and that’s the main thing.  I speak to them to recap on what we learned and I encourage them to keep an eye on their parents driving on their way home, that kind of thing. Just not too much, because you don’t want to be kicked out of their folks car. They definitely come away with a smile on their face.

What do their parents/carers say after the training?

Parents are great. They are quite chuffed, filming their kids driving the car and often I hear them saying ‘What a brilliant idea this is, I wish I could have done it when I was a kid’. Some parents were not aware we do Headstart in Aberdeen.  It also reassures parents that it’s not only a couple of guys with a car using this car park. We are actually driving instructors. They are getting an introduction to the knowledge that they need for when they are on the road.

How do you feel yourself when delivering this training?

I think it’s great. It’s brilliant seeing the youngsters’ faces especially when they start with a really terrified face and you see it gradually turning into a big nice smile, clearly enjoying the training.

John, thank you for your time and all the best with Headstart sessions!

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