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Choosing an electric car for your child learning to drive

Electric cars are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. As fuel prices continue to rise and become more volatile, consumers are beginning to turn away from traditional petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles in favour of zero-emission electric vehicles. It is not just the price of oil that is motivating consumers to make the switch, but public perception about fossil fuels is changing. The public is much more informed than they were in previous generations and increased education is making people more aware of how fossil fuels are an unsustainable form of energy. Not only are fossil fuels like oil and gas unsustainable for the future, but the consumption of these fuel sources is contributing to devastating environmental consequences.

Another contributor to the rise in electric car use in the UK is the increased number of charge points located throughout the region. One of the biggest conveniences for electric vehicle owners is the fact that every night that they get home, they can simply plug their car in and by morning have a full charge. But what about when electric car owners need a charge when they are out and about? In 2011, the UK had only about 1,503 charging stations located throughout the region. The lack of charging stations may have made it more difficult for electric vehicle owners to find the power they needed to get back on the road and to make it to their destinations. However, as of 2020, the UK has upped the number of electric car charging ports to over 27,000, and now in 2022, that number is more than 42,000. With that much growth in the number of charge stations over the last decade, it has empowered more UK residents to make the switch from gas to electric.

So, now that more adults are driving electric vehicles, what does that mean for their teenagers who are just starting to learn to drive? Is it more difficult to learn to drive an electric vehicle than its petrol-powered counterpart? Should a new driver learn how to drive with a conventional petrol-powered car and then make the switch once they have got some experience?

In reality, there is not that much difference between learning how to drive an electric car versus a petrol-powered car. Aside from learning how to master some electric vehicle techniques like conserving range, charging the vehicle, and switching between driving modes, an electric vehicle acts and responds the same way as a conventional vehicle when being operated. Also, there may be some additional steps that may need to be taken when performing regular maintenance on an electric vehicle, but this is not difficult to learn. Keep in mind if you start your teenager’s driving career with an electric vehicle, they would not know the difference anyway.

With over 40% of UK adults expressing that they would prefer to have their child learn to drive on an electric vehicle, what are some important things that people should know about driving an electric car? Also, be aware that it may be more difficult to find driving instructors who teach new drivers how to operate an electric car, so if you are planning to have your teen learn to drive in an electric car, you may be on the hook to provide most of the lessons and practice time to your child while they are working on obtaining their driving licence.

Here are some of the most important things to know when learning to drive an electric car.

  1. There are no manual electric vehicles: It is important to know that electric cars are automatic transmission vehicles only. If you want your teenager to obtain a manual driving licence, then EVs are out.
  2. There is typically no noise: The first thing someone may notice when driving an electric car is that there is no noise. This can really throw some drivers off as engine noise is often used to gauge speed and acceleration. Because of this, when someone is driving an electric vehicle, they may need to pay closer attention to their dash to monitor their speed, acceleration, battery levels, and other vital information pertinent to the driver. Also, engine noise typically creates some awareness to pedestrians and other drivers of a vehicle’s presence. Since there will be no engine noise, it is vital that an EV driver use their turn signals, horn, and lights to communicate with others who are sharing the road.
  3. Acceleration: The torque that you get in petrol-powered cars is a gradual build-up that increases the engine’s RPM to a certain point before the car shifts gears. When a car with an automatic transmission shifts gears, the RPMs decrease rapidly only to build up again before shifting to the next gear. You can both see, hear, and feel this as you accelerate the vehicle. An electric vehicle is different. There is only one gear, and when you hit the accelerator, all the power of the electric battery goes directly to the wheels. Because of this, the acceleration from a dead stop can be very rapid, and if you are not prepared for it, jarring. When accelerating an EV from a complete stop, be sure to gradually press the accelerator. Once the EV reaches speeds over 40 miles per hour, you may notice that the acceleration of the vehicle is not as rapid.
  4. Braking: Just like an automatic petrol-powered car, there is an accelerator and a brake pedal. However, the more experienced you become behind the wheel of an electric vehicle, the less you will have to use the brake pedal. This is because electric cars have something called regenerative braking. Whenever you take your foot off the accelerator, the car automatically starts to apply the brakes. When the vehicle is braking like this, the battery recharges. Once you are more comfortable with the automatic braking system, you may realise that you use the brake pedal much less frequently.
  5. Conserving energy: The way you operate an EV can have a great impact on how many miles you can travel before the vehicle needs a recharge. Accelerate slowly, use the regenerative braking system as much as possible, and be conscious of how using heat, AC, and radio can also have an impact on the vehicle’s battery life.

Aside from these few important things to know about driving an electric vehicle, you may be surprised that driving an EV is really not too much different than driving a petrol-powered vehicle. Because of this, as a parent to a teenager who is first learning to drive, if they express to you that they would prefer to drive an electric car, you should not be afraid to allow them to and to learn along with them.