Should new drivers learn in EVs?

Many ‘every day’ electric cars can accelerate faster than high performance cars with petrol engines.  In a test by charging company Gridserve, even the slowest EVs out-accelerated 43% of internal combustion engine performance cars. This means that they can be hard to handle for inexperienced or learner drivers. But with the transition to EVs gaining pace, future learners are going to need to get to grips with this added challenge. Why not start now?

An environmentally-friendly option

One clear reason to get people to learn to drive in an electric car is the reduction in pollution.  The average learner takes around 45 hours of tuition to pass their test. Those hours spent on the road in a gas–powered car will chug out significant amounts of greenhouse gases and health-hazardous pollution.  Electric cars don’t produce any of these damaging fumes.

Interestingly, even if you don’t have the option to learn on an EV yet, some UAE solutions will be available soon to allow you to monitor and reduce your carbon impact during the process. Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Driving Company (EDC) and Dubai-based climate-tech startup CarbonSifr, are planning to introduce a ‘green driving licence package’. The joint solution will display the amount of carbon emitted during the entire process of getting your driving licence, from start to finish.

But that still feels like something to settle for as a ‘next best option’ when you could simply go all in on cutting out the carbon completely. It’s worth spending some time to find a school that offers the choice of an EV to learn in. A good starting point could be the Emirates Driving Institute in Dubai which offers lessons in a Tesla Model X.

The future is electric

Fast-forward to 2035 and nearly all cars on the road will be electric and you simply won’t be able to learn to drive in a manual-geared gas-guzzler.  Gone will be the need to depress a clutch and shift the gear stick.  So why bother learning to use one now?

The UK is moving quickly to introduce electric cars to tuition fleets.  Edmund King, President of the Automobile Association, which operates one of the largest driving schools, puts it simply: ”There is increasingly an acknowledgement that you do not necessarily need to learn how to change gear. In the very near future, you will only need to drive an automatic, because all EVs are automatic.”

Learn to master the power

As pointed out earlier, EVs have awesome acceleration. You’ve probably seen the results that uncontrolled torque can produce in numerous YouTube videos showing young drivers fishtailing wildly across lanes of traffic.

But isn’t it better to learn to cope with this from day one? I remember the first time I pushed down the pedal on an Audi E-tron in S-mode. Even though it’s not among the very fastest, it was like nothing else I’d ever driven. It sprang into life instantaneously and it was lucky that I wasn’t pulling out at a crossroads. A Tesla Model 3 Performance can outrun 90 percent of gas-powered performance sprinting from zero to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds. And it’s not inconceivable that a novice driver could end up in a Tesla quite soon after passing the test.

Some countries do have very rigorous control-testing requirements. Finland, for example, insists on a minimum of 18 hours driving before a provisional two-year licence is given. During those two years, tuition continues, with some training on handling cars on slippery surfaces, night driving and other advanced skills. 

While the roads of the UAE are not as liable as Finland’s to adverse weather, ice and slippery leaves, perhaps road safety could be increased by training learners in superfast EVs from their very first lesson?

This view isn’t universally accepted, however.  And some driving instructors say it’s better for learners to keep things as simple as possible to start with. 

Benny Malburg, owner of Official Driving School in the US explained in a recent interview: “New drivers experience what we call overloading when they start driving. Their brains must get used to paying attention to hazards, steering, braking, gaps in traffic, and speed control all at once. After you’ve been driving awhile, a lot of this becomes second nature, but not for the new driver”.

He continued: “With EVs we usually have a larger screen with more things to play with, and cars that accelerate at incredible speeds that most new drivers are not prepared for. On top of that, the autonomy of EVs, while great for experienced drivers, leads to a lack of skill development in new drivers compared to those learning with an ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicle.”

We’re simply going to have to embrace the electric revolution. While EVs present unique challenges for novice drivers, they also offer an opportunity to shape a generation of eco-conscious, adept motorists. As the world shifts gears towards sustainability, it’s crucial for learners to be equipped with the skills to navigate this new terrain. Starting early should help ensure a safer, greener future for all.

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30 Sep, 2023