Tuesday 23 January 2018

Private circuit puts learners in the driving seat

JEROME REILLY

THE young learn quickly, but for every parent the idea of sending a teenager out onto crowded roads with only a St Christopher Medal for protection is fraught with worry.

Now aspiring motorists as young as 14, and older, nervous learners can get to grips with driving in a safe and secure setting on a private road network.

The Leinster Driving Campus is the first facility of its kind in Ireland, with over two kilometres of roads on a private five acre site at Taghadoe, Maynooth, Co Kildare.

The circuit allows a driver with little or no experience behind the wheel to encounter typical traffic handling features in a controlled environment, away from other motorists, as well as familiarising themselves with steering, gears and clutch.

Many learner drivers take their first tentative steps toward getting their licence in a supermarket car park with a stressed out relative ready to grab the steering wheel when things go wrong.

Not only is it dangerous, but a recent survey by Mercedes Benz World revealed that one in five who tried to teach a loved one to drive admitted it ended in heated exchanges, while a significant number said the "lesson" had descended into a shouting match.

And for many adults who haven't yet learned how to drive, the idea of venturing onto the public roads for the first time, even with a qualified driving instructor, is a nerve-wracking prospect.

"The idea came from my father, Joe, who was watching a driving instructor trying to show a pupil how to reverse in a supermarket car park which was quite busy at the time. He thought it was just a crazy and dangerous situation and thought there must be a better way," says Padraic McHalem, who runs Leinster Driving Campus with his brother Brian.

In the UK, one local authority, in Gosport, Hampshire, has already warned driving instructors they face fines if they try to teach pupils how to parallel park or reverse in public car parks.

As well as working traffic lights, roundabouts, zebra crossings, a yellow box junction, all the different turn lanes and a hill start section, the facility also boasts a skid pan to teach students how to detect skids earlier and control the vehicle under slippery or adverse conditions.

One of the first pupils was 15-year-old Rebecca Murphy from Celbridge. She begins transition year at St Wolstan's College in September and says she has enjoyed the experience of learning how to drive.

"I didn't have a clue at the start. My dad wanted me to learn to drive so I can pass my test when I'm 17. It's great learning when you know you can't hit anything," she said.

A significant number of enquiries have come from older learner drivers who have lost their confidence.

The facility is private, so those as young as 14 without a learner permit can learn the basics. Lessons start at €40 an hour. Motorbike learners can take 16 hours of theory and practice of the Compulsory Training Programme.

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