Learning to Drive? An Electric Car Could Be Just The Thing

Taking a Driving Test in a 2009 MIni E

Taking a Driving Test in a 2009 MIni E

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You're at high school and you want the freedom of being able to drive yourself wherever you want to go, not where others take you. To get that freedom, most teens attend driver's ed to learn the skills they need to pass that all-important driving test. 

Normally, that involves a lot of hard work, practice, and driving the family car at the weekend under parental supervision to hone your car control. But what happens when your family car is a 2009 MIni E? Can you learn to drive and pass the test in an all-electric car? 

As a parent I recently had the task of preparing my daughter for her driving test. She’d had a go in the past in our old ’05 Honda stick-shift Insight - but driving that had never ignited any passion to finish up the job and get that illusive pass to freedom

A year later and it had been sold, along with our other gasoline car. In their place, a 2008 Mini E and 2010 Tesla Roadster.

In our family there's been a long tradition of parents teaching their kids to drive. Driving schools on the other hand, insist you use their cars - which are all gasoline. 

My decision was easy. With tradition and a clean ecological conscience on my side, I decided to teach her myself, making use of some great resources online to help me. 

But learning to drive in the $109,000 Tesla Roadster wasn't at the top of my daughter's list. Most teens would jump at the chance to experience its 0-60 time and sporty handling. My daughter was more pragmatic. "It's too hard to see out," she explained. She likes to drive the Tesla but prefers the Mini E.

Taking a Driving Test in a 2009 MIni E

Taking a Driving Test in a 2009 MIni E

Enlarge Photo

How hard would it be? I thought. 

After our first lesson - how to stop - and after I'd developed a greater respect for the driving instructor's ability to de-construct and teach I realized something I hadn't before: electric cars are great to teach in.

Hour after hour of stop/start, forwards/backwards, K-Turns, U-Turns, and more maneuvers than I care to remember, it dawned on me the Mini E was a pretty nice place to work. Without the constant vibration  and jerky transmission of a traditional gasoline powered car, the cabin was a calm and relaxing place. Add heating and air conditioning, a really comfortably chair and it could easily be a daily workplace.

What about battery life? In a driving school environment where the gasoline engine struggles to hit two-digit mpg figures, the EV is in its element. Hours of low-speed training registered little impact on the power gauge, far less than I anticipated. Throw in a charge at lunch-time and I think that a full-time instructor could work with this.

The icing on the cake? Minimal noise pollution and no tailpipe emissions, again the other end of the spectrum to the traditional gasoline driving school equivalent.

Test day arrived and we were ready. In fact, at the DMV Testing Center on test day I think I was just as nervous as she was. 

Taking a Driving Test in a 2009 MIni E

Taking a Driving Test in a 2009 MIni E

Enlarge Photo

We needn't have worried. She (or We) passed first time!

I can tell you from first hand experience that learning to drive  in an EV is pleasant, low-stress and eco-friendly.  Sadly though, there's a hitch.

In some countries, such as the U.K. where stick-shift transmissions are still popular, the license you get on passing depends on the type of transmission you drive in for the test.  If you take your test in a stick-shift, you're allowed to drive stick or automatic. But if you take your test in an automatic then you're stuck with an automatic only restriction for the rest of your driving career.

An electric car has no traditional gears, or traditional gearbox, but drives like an automatic. That means that for some countries, learning to drive in an electric car could restrict your license. 

No such problem for my daughter. She's experienced driving with stick is that now relevant in the new world of electric cars?

Would you teach your kids to drive in an electric car, and could you live with an automatic only license? Let us know in the Comments below. 

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