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A driving force

A new course aimed at saving young lives

12 April 2007

8:17 AM

12 April 2007

8:17 AM

Most Spectator readers share the gripe that we live in a nanny state. So it is bewildering that, in an age when health and safety czars issue edicts forbidding children to play conkers, nothing has been done in schools to address the biggest threat to young people of all — our roads.

In the last four years the death rate among young drivers has more than doubled, and every hour a person under 25 is killed or seriously injured in a traffic accident. Despite these harrowing statistics, the current driving test still does not require people to drive in hazardous weather, on motorways or at night, when most young drivers crash. While the government has implemented Personal Health and Social Education in schools to tackle sex, drugs and alcohol, nothing is being done about driving — yet far more young people die annually in car crashes than from drugs.

It took Nick Rowley, a young father of three boys, to spot the gap in the market after listening to the headmaster of Winchester talk about preparing his pupils for life. ‘I realised my son might get a  wonderful education in history and French or whatever but the one thing that might take him away from me would be a car crash, and no amount of A grades could prevent that,’ says Rowley. He immediately set about founding the a2om academy, Britain’s first university-affiliated driving school. Its trendy acronym stands for ‘alpha to omega motoring’ and the academy is set to revolutionise the way our children learn to drive.

Behind a2om’s approach is the belief that it is behaviour and attitude that cause accidents rather than lack of technical skill. For example, boys drive dangerously when there are girls in the car and not because they  can’t execute a three-point turn. In association with Cranfield University, a2om is the first driving school to use psychometry (measuring behaviour) in its teaching. Again ahead of anyone else, a2om is also using neuroscience to accelerate the development rate of the frontal lobe, the crucial part of the brain that can anticipate risk, which doesn’t normally mature till the age of 24.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds, insists Rowley. ‘We are simply taking all the best practices globally and fusing them into one curriculum — if you like, the Oxbridge of driving instruction.’

Rowley has built an impressive team that includes Gary Austin, former head of the Driving Standards Agency. While Austin was at the DSA it took him five long, frustrating years to put the Hazard Perception Test in place. Austin is now passionate about what a2om can achieve away from the inertia and rigid restrictions of the public sector. ‘We have created the very best curriculum in the world for teaching people how to drive safely for the rest of their lives,’ he says.

This is a bold claim, but any sceptic need look no further than to the calibre of people endorsing a2om. Adrian Walsh, Director of RoadSafe, believes a2om is ‘light years ahead of anything else in the field’. Audi is providing brand-new A3s for all  a2om pupils and Royal & SunAlliance has pledged its support by guaranteeing great insurance deals for a2om graduates. ‘I write to commend to  you a scheme for Driving Instruction which I believe will serve your sons extremely well,’ B.J. Lenon, headmaster of Harrow, wrote to parents recently. Schools such as Ampleforth, Wellington and Winchester are also offering the a2om curriculum.

The course is not cheap, but parents are queuing up, knowing the initial outlay will be set off by advantageous insurance packages further down the line and access to exclusive deals on cars and financing. Besides, as the father of an a2om graduate told me, ‘You can’t put a price on a child’s life.’ Rowley is tapping into a universal anxiety, knowing that parents start having sleepless nights the moment their child sits behind the steering wheel for the first time.

In March a Government Road Safety Strategy Review announced, ‘The time has come to reform fundamentally the way people learn to drive. We need to do more than tinker … we need to overhaul the current system.’

Rowley smiles confidently, knowing a2om already has the answers the government is grasping for. ‘Ultimately we’re going to change the whole way we approach driving here,’ says Rowley. It’s another audacious claim but, judging by the enthusiasm with which independent schools and parents are already putting their trust in a2om, he could be right.; Tel: 0700 123400.

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