Putting young Shaan to the test

PUBLISHED: 13:00 05 October 2013

Shaan Johal, 11,  enjoyed her first driving lesson in a car park at Westfield Stratford City

Shaan Johal, 11, enjoyed her first driving lesson in a car park at Westfield Stratford City


A driver training course specifically aimed at 11-17-year-olds was launched at Westfield Stratford City on Sunday.

Keen to see how useful it is for youngsters getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time, Kay Atwal put her daughter Shaan Johal, who has just turned 11, in the hot seat.

Here, mother and daughter describe their quite different perspectives of the day.

Shaan Johal, 11, puts her hands on the wheel for the first timeShaan Johal, 11, puts her hands on the wheel for the first time

“I know everyone says children grow up early these days but I never expected to be watching my 11-year-old take her first driving lesson.

It took place on a specially designed course at the top of a car park at Westfield Stratford City where even at 10am there was a group of parents watching their offspring navigate the colourful route.

There were six SEAT dual controlled cars, each with an instructor.

Needless to say I was nervous anyway and being so high up did not help. Having said that, I tried not to show it.

Shaan Johal, 11,  drove on a special course in a car park at Westfield Stratford City in the shadow of the Olympic ParkShaan Johal, 11, drove on a special course in a car park at Westfield Stratford City in the shadow of the Olympic Park

Tim Bentley, an instructor for ten years,four of them with Young Driver, would be in the car with my daughter as she went through the circuit.

My first surprise came when he asked if I would like to sit in the back of the car which may not have been such a great idea in hindsight.

Once inside he took her through the basic checks before explaining the car’s ABC – accelerator, brakes and clutch and then showed her how to start the car. She stalled twice and then began the first lesson – moving off and stopping. Then he quickly moved on to explaining steering.

She was quickly weaving her way through cones, metal posts and lane markings. It was a few minutes before I realised I had been holding my breath.

In the meantime, she was coping with indicators, gears and the other five vehicles weaving their way around the course.

Before he introduced another element, Tim would stop and explain, using his I Pad to illustrate the point, like controlling speed.

Meanwhile I found it incredibly hard to sit back in silence without offering advice or translating Tim’s instructions and had to bite my tongue.

Within minutes she was changing gears, steering the car around the car park –‘shuffling’ the steering wheel, using her indicators. She was fearless and even managed to carry on a conversation with Tim (She later said “I was just multi–tasking mum, LOL).

She picked up the road signs, very quickly.

Several times I found myself holding my breath or looking away, digging in my heels as Shaan approached the fence or got too close to a bollard. Throughout it Tim kept control of the vehicle and when he asked if I wanted to get out and stretch my legs, I grabbed the opportunity.

Once I was out and watching I realised I was probably the only one who was nervous - everyone else- Shaan, the other youngsters driving and their parents, were all smiling and my Shaan was driving smoothly, controlling all her manoeuvres. To crown it all off, she reverse parked. I was so proud of her.”

Shaan Johal,11, talks about her first driving lesson

“Tim, my instructor, was easy to understand when he explained the car’s pedals. He explained things step by step and repeated them as well.

I was surprised at how much you have turn the steering wheel because I thought you just had to do little movements.

It was fun accelerating and I wanted to go faster but I didn’t. We were on the top floor of this car park and I could see the Olympic stadium.

At the start I found it hard to get the clutch right but I was OK after two tries.

I used gears 1 and 2 and learnt that you don’t have to use the accelerator much when you are in gear 2. At the end I reverse parked the car like my Dad.

I had to drive between these two poles and pretend they were garage doors and Tim also asked me to drive close to the wall and the reverse back as well. I didn’t think I was going to crash.

I thought one hour of driving was going to be like a long time but when I finished it felt like 10 minutes

I‘d love to do it again. Its really cool seeing the Olympic Stadium and Orbit Tower when you are driving so high.

I cant believe my mum stayed quiet in the back, the whole time without saying anything. I think it was because she was so nervous.”

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