Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond on: young drivers

Richard Hammond on: young drivers

Well, I for one have been staggered at the tsunami of teenage hooligans that has engulfed our roads since it became legal for 16-year-olds to drive at the beginning of this year. I've seen... none. Nope, not one. Not a single spotty oik have I spotted looning about in their light quadricycle, school blazer swinging madly from the coathook and lunchbox spilling Dairylea Dippers into the footwell.

It would have been for me, aged 16, the single biggest event imaginable: a life-changing societal swing on a par with the invention of money or the discovery of fire. And yet, school yards and town centres, far from being rammed with eager young things charging about in little plastic cars, appear not to have been graced with their effervescent presence at all.

This disappointing showing could be down to sound, logical reasons. For one thing... THEY COST A BLOODY FORTUNE. Any 16-year-old who can afford - or, rather, whose parents can afford - 10 grand for a 28mph Aixam S and at least a further two grand a year to insure it, more than likely lives somewhere ending in 'Dhabi' and would be kept perfectly content blasting around the palace corridors in a Bugatti Veyron.

For the rest of the world, the expense involved versus the rewards on offer - a top speed of 28mph in a two-seater that looks like a vacuum cleaner with the handle snapped off - might not justify selling the house and a sibling. That said, it absolutely would have done for me. Were this opportunity to have arisen in 1985, when as a 16-year-old I ran downstairs to leap on my 50cc moped and head off into a heady world of engines and angry car horns, I would have swapped my liver, an eye and both my brothers for a quadricycle and some ‘turbo' stickers.

It could be down to the enthusiasm-dampening drip of dour projections from columnists and commentators to the effect that providing 16-year-olds with cars, even light quadricycle ones limited to 28mph, is like giving prison inmates the keys to their cells, a range of automatic weapons, an unlimited supply of strong drugs and Lady Gaga's address book. The answer to which dreary proclamation is that they already possess the most lethal weapons of all - testosterone and hormones - so how much more trouble can a plastic car with a lawnmower engine really cause?

The only justifiable social objection I can see is the possibility of being stuck in my 911 behind a lovelorn, absent-minded 16-year-old driving flat-out at 28mph down my local lanes dreaming of how things might have been different between him and Britney from Class 5E if he hadn't written what he wrote on the blackboard in first break about her pants. There is the possibility for danger there, yes, but we trust them on bicycles and with telephones, both of which are more powerful than a light quadricycle, so maybe we should just get over it and give them a chance.

But I think the dismal take-up is down to something else. I imagine that it might have been quashed by an undercurrent of sage common sense and objective realism washing through the nation's teenage shaggy, ill-kempt heads.

What I dream they have realised is that rolling up at the school gates in their light quadricycle will not, as they might at first have imagined, raise them to godlike status over their contemporaries. I think they might have realised that turning up in a tiny plastic car that sounds like a strimmer will cause them to be despised on a molecular level and cast out of young teenage society as surely and finally as a closet folk-dancer prancing through the gates with bells on their ankles.

For one thing, all around them will realise that their parents must have an unlimited supply of wonga, and this will make people jealous that their parents should choose to spend this money on fulfilling their teenage son or daughter's automotive fantasies, rather than expensive holidays for themselves or plastic surgery.

And, finally, quite a few of them may well have realised that by waiting another 365 days, which they might pass, say, having fun, drinking illicitly in pubs and enjoying furtive encounters behind the bike sheds, they could then take the keys to a secondhand Ford Fiesta with four times the power for a quarter of the money and suddenly find themselves having a lot more fun.

Oh dear. It was such a lovely, wonderful dream. I briefly wanted to be 16 again, just to find a way of realising it for myself. And then I woke up. It's no big deal, really, just a hollow opportunity for those with sufficient money to waste on it.

Richard Hammond, Column, Bugatti Veyron

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