Oh to be a teenager in 2015, part of Generation Z, born into the digital age, with no knowledge or memory of life before the internet, YouTube, and the X-Factor!
Whilst virtual driving might be popular with the youth of today, increasingly it seems that many Generation Z teens have no interest or enthusiasm for real cars and motoring, with little or no desire to get behind the wheel of an actual vehicle as soon as they are legally able.
At the risk of sounding like a pipe-smoking old codger, it certainly wasn’t like that in my day. I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of a car as soon as I turned 17 and, having the misfortune to be born on Christmas Day, I had to wait an agonising 48 hours before my local driving instructor returned from his post-Festive break for my first official driving lesson in his dual-controlled Ford Escort, aged 17 and two days.
Of course, just between us naturally, I had already had a few sneaky pre-17 ‘lessons’ with older friends and family at my side in my first proper car, a 1969 Honda S800 coupe (the 1962 suicide-door Fiat 500 I had when I was 12 doesn’t really count).
The Honda was already a decade or more old when I bought it, with its halcyon days very much behind it, but boy, for a car-crazy teenager a small sports car that revved to 11,000 rpm was beyond cool (to me at least), especially as most of my mates had tired and predictable old Minis, Escorts, Capris (those with rich parents) or in one case, a 2CV, which was probably the most inspired choice for an impoverished 17-year old, being the cheapest to insure, the most frugal, the only one with a roll-back roof, and arguably the most fun of any of our cars collectively.
Some of these same friends now have offspring of their own – ranging in age from 17 to 24 – and most tell me that their little cherubs have zero interest in taking lessons and passing their driving test, never mind buying and running their own car, preferring instead to rely on the dependable and cheap Mum and Dad Taxi Service, whilst getting their driving kicks ass on the laptop playing Gran Turismo and Grand Theft Auto.
Granted, for young drivers these days the crippling costs of car insurance, fuel and driving lessons – now made more challenging than in my era with the added need to pay for and pass a theory test – are understandable barriers to getting behind the wheel and out on Her Majesty’s highways. The added financial burden of student loans, which were fully funded by the Government when I was at university, is another major hindrance to young drivers taking and passing their test too.
This is a great shame, especially as the choice of affordable, safe, ecologically sound small cars has never been better. Consider the Toyota Aygo, Renault Twingo and Skoda CitiGo, or the ‘Can’t Be Bothered to Go’ that many youth now seem to favour!
In line with much of Europe, the UK’s legal minimum driving age for a motor car remains at 17. For a few of our Continental cousins though, teenagers can legally take to the wheel at an earlier age, with a choice of cars created specifically for these teenage groups.
Just across the Channel, for example, French teens can drive aged 14+ in four-wheeled safety and air-conditioned comfort in a voiture sans permis (VSP), a small two-seater car, restricted to a maximum 350 kg weight limit, with 4bhp and a top speed of 45km/h (28mph), without the need for a driving licence. Increasingly popular with sub-25 drivers, the leading VSP manufacturers now tailor their microcars to the tastes of this youthful audience, with models such as the Aixam GTO, (yes, really!), the DS 3-inspired Ligier JS 50, and the Mini Cooper-esque Chatenet EVO. Okay, so they may be all show and no go, but for a 14-year old kid, these are far cooler and considerably safer than a vulnerable two-wheeled moped or scooter.
In Germany, 16-year olds can also legally drive these small microcars on an A1 licence – as they can in Italy, Spain, Portugal, plus most of Benelux and Scandinavian – but a larger, stronger, safer and truly unique alternative exists for young Germans in the form of the unusual Auto Ellenrieder Ellenator.
The Ellenator is a range of distinctive four-wheelers, modified to resemble three-wheelers, based on various Volkswagen Group B-segment models, such as the VW Polo, SEAT Ibiza and Skoda Fabia. To adapt these small hatches for 16-year olds to drive, Auto Ellenrieder downgrades the base car’s engine and bizarrely relocates the rear wheels closer together towards the centre of the car (covering up the rear wheel arches in the process) so that the Ellenators can be reclassified as low powered three-wheelers and driven by 16 year-olds. And no, this really isn’t an early April Fools Day joke!
Quite why you would want to risk letting a 16-year old loose in one of these unstable machines is beyond me, but some do. I am confident most 16-year olds would rather wait another year until they turn 17 and drive a real car, for the sake of their street cred personal safety. Until then, they can practice driving on their Playstations…
Sparco Gran Turismo image courtesy of ‘Cliche Online’ licensed under Creative Commons 3.0