Cunning ploy to put kids in driving seat

Ellen's children were scared as darkness fell last night

Ellen's children were scared as darkness fell last night - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

It took me five attempts to pass my driving test.

The first time, I failed after mounting a kerb and narrowly avoiding a lamppost.

On the second, my emergency stop was so ferocious it set off the air bags.

And on the third, my three-point turn took at least 10 manoeuvres.

On the fourth, I signalled left but turned right, prompting a cacophony of beeping and much gesticulating from the angry drivers snarled in the traffic jam I had created.

“Have I failed?” I asked my instructor, who had his head in his hands.

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“I think you probably know the answer to that question,” he replied, grimacing. “But I will confirm that at the end of the test.”

He paused. “Unless, of course, you choose to end it now?” he added hopefully.

Yes, I know first-hand how deeply undignified it can be to spend almost 10 years bearing L plates while a variety of different instructors, each gripping clipboards with white knuckles, try desperately not to follow their natural instinct and grab the steering wheel out of your hands.

Having said that, I have to admit it never concerned me massively that I wasn’t a natural.

I took my first two tests at the age of 17 (the lessons were a birthday present from my parents) but I didn’t feel anywhere near ready to take charge of a vehicle.

In general, I think this is a mentality that more people could do with adopting (after all, most accidents are caused by young drivers).

I was also living in central London at the time, where I went everywhere by Tube and couldn’t even afford a car, not to mention the parking charges and residency permits you also have to fork out for in the city.

On the second two attempts I was a little older – in my early 20s – and living near Manchester, but I had a very trusty boyfriend with an old banger who was only too happy to ferry me about everywhere.

At that time I could have happily remained a passenger forever. Being designated driver isn’t exactly a desirable role, is it?

Then I moved to a rural spot in West Yorkshire, split up with my chauffeur and found myself four miles from work and two from the nearest supermarket on a very unreliable bus route.

I managed to convince another new instructor to take me on and, after a few brush-up lessons, I was booked in for my fifth and final examination, which, incredibly, I sailed through without a single black mark.

I would like to say that it was my age (I was 25 when I finally passed my test) and experience that got me such a great grade.

But, actually, recent stats from the Driving Standards Agency show that the highest percentage of passes are among 17-year-olds.

It is my guess that a lot of these are teens who have grown up in the countryside – away from the transport hubs of the city – and are desperate for a bit of independence. I would also imagine their parents are pushing for this too.

A study this week revealed that busy parents taxi their children a staggering 125,817 miles before they are old enough to drive themselves – the equivalent of around half the distance to the moon.

Mothers and fathers typically make 117 journeys between them every four weeks, clocking up an average of 641 miles.

This adds up to 25 hours and 10 minutes spent behind the wheel each month.

It really is little wonder that many mums and dads look forward to the day their chauffeuring duties are over.

What they don’t think about, however, is how expensive that could be.

Let’s face it, those youngsters seeking independence on the road are often far from independent financially.

Research has shown that one in three young drivers rely on their parents to buy their first car and one in five then need mum and dad to pay for their car insurance as well.

The average cost of a first car these days is £1,450, and drivers aged 17 can expect a first-year insurance premium of up to £5,000.

And don’t forget that driving lessons themselves cost an average of £20 an hour.

Suffolk is not the easiest county to learn in, either. Last month the EADT revealed that a woman in Bury St Edmunds forked out an astonishing £1,600 in driving test fees before finally passing on her 26th attempt.

A man in the Ipswich area was not far behind, passing on his 22nd attempt at the town’s test centre, while another woman was third on the list after passing on her 21st attempt, also in Ipswich.

My husband and I have already set up a savings account to help us pay for the days our daughter and son start driving lessons.

We did so when we first moved to Suffolk and realised just how much ferrying around was going to be required.

Hopefully our fund will get enough time with an instructor and go some way to buying a first car.

This might sound like we would be spoiling them. But actually it is a cunning ploy to spoil ourselves.

According to one insurance company, 80% of parents turn the tables on their kids after 17 years of acting as a taxi service.

And this is exactly what we plan to do.

In fact, I might treat them to full-on payback.

First we will tell them we need dropping off and picking up from the pub. Then, once in the car, we will constantly demand drinks, crisps, and toilet breaks.

The pièce de résistance will be to frequently interrupt all attempts at adult conversation with shrieks of “are we nearly there yet?”

That should do the trick.

Please email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

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