It’s not often that I post to the digressions area, mainly because I try to focus on the modelling but also there is personal aspect to the digressions and by its very definition it’s personal not public. So to get an entry in this section means that it is something special that I think warrants a mention. The Pathfinder project fully deserves the accolade in my opinion.

The Pathfinder Project mentioned by the title is a project by the Under 17 Car Club to teach and promote safe driving to teenagers. It runs an intensive 5 day driving course for teenagers to learn safe driving techniques. For a number of years the course has been run at Throckmorton Airfield near Worcester. However this year they have launched a new venue at Driffield.

Under 17 driving for Callum

As my eldest lad, Callum, is fast approaching being old enough to drive and from my personal experience of having passed my Advanced Motorcycle test it was something that I felt would be invaluable  for him. So we signed him up for the course at the beginning of April. Driffield isn’t really a daily commute for us so we found a local holiday cottage to rent in Kilham and made a family holiday of the event. By very good fortune it was the week following the York Model Railway Exhibition so I managed to escape for a day and visit the exhibition.

We turned up on the Monday morning at 8:30 to sign in at the Driffield Air Cadet Centre to heavy and persistent Yorkshire rain. The organisers had erected a large marquee for the introductions and briefings so we dived in there to get out of the rain. After a quick introduction, a couple of ice breakers and a few ground rules the kids got their first taste behind the wheel of a car.

Driving course laid out with cones.

Parents and students all get involved and you have to use your own car. As both our family cars are automatics we found a little manual Peugeot 107 for Callum to learn in. Cheap(!) insurance, although still the best part of £2000 once he’s passed his test! Basically the parents are helping their kids to learn how to drive and there are a dozen or so instructors who sit in and help with instruction. A small course is laid out with cones marking out roads, roundabouts, give way junctions, garages, parking bays and slalom courses etc. for them to practice on.

At the end of the first day Callum had made great progress and had sorted out the basics of the car control. All the students have a progress booklet which covers various aspects of the training, clutch control, emergency stops etc. The first target is to reach the level 3 standards and once attained they aim for level 2 and ultimately level 1 by the end of the week. On the Tuesday morning the students were assessed on their progress and get help and guidance on the areas where they need a little more practice. In the afternoon there were dedicated sessions to learn skills and techniques of car control with a slalom course, pulling into a garage space, reversing into another garage space and finally parallel parking.

Under 17 driving for Callum

On Wednesday there was more driving time, instruction and assessment but then they introduced additional activities. A good demonstration of what braking distances equate to in real life. Stood at the side and watching a car barrelling past you at 70mph and then doing an emergency stop is a sobering demonstration for speed awareness. Further skills added to their repertoire included instruction and practice for safe overtaking. By the end of Wednesday Callum had progressed sufficiently to attain his level 2 award.

Although there was a lot driving, not all the activities were behind the wheel. After the break for lunch they had a short presentation covering a variety of subjects, speed awareness, peer pressure and assertiveness etc. They were short, succinct, not condescending in any way and made the point effectively. It made the students think and consider the consequence of their actions. That was another excellent aspect of the course in that it made the students take responsibility, sorting out instruction and assessment to progress and emphasises that when driving they are responsible for that vehicle.

Morning briefing

There is also a little bit of homework in that each evening the students are asked to complete a short online theory test. The students are not expected to know all the answers but it is used to get the students to look through the highway code. Find out what the answers are and they are instructed not to ask their parents as they are likely to get it wrong! [Guilty as charged!]

They also invited a speaker in from a local Road Safety Partnership to discuss the work they do. Efforts were made to get some support from the local constabulary to talk with the students but were unable to organise anything in time for this course. Hopefully if the police recognise the value of this training then they might get some support for the next course.

Thursday started with a brake and avoid activity. The students had to accelerate to 30mph, as they passed a couple of cones a quick stamp on the brakes and then swerve one way to avoid little Jimmy running into the road, then swerve the other way to avoid the bus approaching in the opposite direction. All marked out by a few cones of course but a great way to get the students to appreciate what actions are required/possible in an emergency situation.

Callum test driving a Smart Roadster

As Callum had reached level 2 in the afternoon the instructors started introducing more topics from the Advanced Drivers handbook, including the system of car control. At this stage the students are encouraged to try a few other vehicles, including automatics. So Callum got to drive a Smart Roadster one of the instructors generously allowed the students to use, also a BMW X3 and a van.

Successful level 1 students

Then on Friday there is a final session of instruction and assessment and I’m pleased to say that Callum achieved the standards required for level 1. They do manage the student expectations as they aim to get everybody to the standard required for level 2. Not everyone will get to level 1 as they are introducing several advanced driving techniques so I was the proud parent when Callum passed the level 1 assessment.

Course students and parents

The day finished with a debrief, presentations and a few group photos. Finally a couple of dozen exhilarated but exhausted students and parents slowly wandered home with a great sense of achievement.

All the instructors had a real positive enthusiasm for the project and provided lots of encouragement for the kids. All the students and parents were very supportive for each other, often applauding when they see someone work hard at something and then achieve it.

I cannot recommend the course highly enough for any budding new drivers, next ones are on in October. None of us are perfect drivers, we all make mistakes and keep learning. So to be able to get a good safe start to a lifetime of driving with the Pathfinder Project is a brilliant opportunity. My son throughly enjoyed the week and learnt a lot. My thanks and appreciation to all the volunteers, organisers, marshals and instructors who put so much effort into making the course a success.