Cars are real, the drivers are dinky

MOST TEENAGERS start practising three-point turns well in advance of their driving test. But James Mohsen started seven years early.

Ten-year-old James is among pupils honing their driving skills on a new course run by Mercedes-Benz World in Surrey. Held at weekends and during school holidays, the course aims to give young learners the skills they need to negotiate the open road.

Children as young as eight steer the latest Mercedes models around purpose-built simulation tracks. There is no age limit, only a minimum height of 1.5 metres.

Andrew Catlin, director of the course, said: "Kids have been driving for years, but as passengers. If you teach them, they start taking on board what they see. We get them to understand how you drive, why you drive, how your personality affects the way you drive. That stuff doesn't really get covered when 17-year-olds learn."

Young drivers have the highest fatality rates, with nearly 20 per cent crashing within a year of passing their test.

Earlier this month, the Scottish Executive called for schools to teach sections of the driving test after 15 people died in road accidents in the space of three days.

"In school, you're trained to be competitive," Mr Catlin said. "So children want to be first: the fastest driver, the first off when lights change. We show that being in control is more important."

For James, self-control was not top of his wishlist: "I wanted to drive so badly," he said. "I didn't want to wait seven years. I like the feeling I'm in charge. I could do anything I wanted."

Lessons cost pound;25 for half an hour and achievements are recorded in a logbook. Pupils start out in a Smartcar or A-class Mercedes, progressing to bigger models as they improve. Particularly adept 16-year-olds are given control of a 6.3-litre engine.

Ted Harvey, 14, from Surrey, is looking forward to that day. "I've had lessons with my Dad in the drive," he said. "But a top-class Mercedes gets much more speed. I've always wanted to do 100mph."

Sarah Fatica, of road-safety charity Brake, is concerned that the classes may imbue young drivers with false confidence. "This could lead them to think they're able to drive Mum and Dad's car, she said. "You shouldn't be learning to drive until you're 17."

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Adi Bloom

I am one of the reporters at the TES, specialising in educational research, eating disorders, sex education, gender issues and, worryingly, teachers who appear on reality TV.