Electric cars are becoming ever more popular but there needs to be more information, support and planning before they become the norm for driving instructors, says Seb Goldin, CEO of Red Driving School
While the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) recently announced that one in nine newly registered vehicles in the UK are now plug-in, electric cars are still a less common occurrence on UK roads than their petrol and diesel counterparts.
It’s therefore no surprise that finding a driving instructor who teaches in an electric car could present a challenge. While this is changing as driving instructor fleets respond to learner demand, there are numerous obstacles facing the driver training sector at present when it comes to the widespread adoption of EVs.
Instructors who have a private driveway are in a great position to adopt an electric vehicle as they are able to confidently charge their vehicles every evening. However, a recent survey by RED Driving School shows that 26% of instructors don’t have their own driveway or access to private overnight charging and with so many miles driven in specific locations to cater for the pupil, relying on public charging infrastructure is daunting for instructors.
In early 2021, there was a clear north/south divide, with EVs prevalent in areas such as London and the South-East but lacking in the north. Fast forward to summer 2021 and the North West surpassed London’s numbers considerably. This shows that interest and adoption trends are changing and EV charge point providers are responding to it.
Over the past year, we’ve seen major operators such as InstaVolt and Gridserve pledge to increase their infrastructure country wide, and the government announce that up to 145,000 extra charge points will be installed across the country each year, which bodes extremely well for the UK as a whole.
Another barrier to adoption is the initial expenditure. Electric cars are more cost effective to run than petrol or diesel cars in the long run, however at present, the cheapest UK electric vehicle is approximately £7,000 more than a petrol or diesel equivalent, and this is before insurance costs are considered.
At present, the differences in cost for public versus at home charging are significant and could also be seen as a barrier to EV adoption. An instructor or new driver who can charge at home overnight can charge their average sized EV at 5p/kwh, equating to £3. In comparison, the same car would cost 800% more using a public network at a rate of 40p/kwh.
Manual v automatic, petrol v electric
Those who are making the decision between learning to drive in an automatic or manual should be aware that if they learn to drive in an EV, they will only be able to drive automatic cars - not a car with gears.
As learner drivers are often the younger demographic, new drivers often aren’t able to afford an automatic or electric vehicle - the average cost of a first car is £3,388, according to GoCompare data, with the manual Ford Fiesta taking first places as most popular car. Instructors must therefore cater for these pupils who will require a manual licence for the car they will then drive in. Until the second-hand EV market becomes more popular, this will continue to be a barrier to adoption for instructors.
However, learner drivers should be reassured that learning to drive in an EV is a very good option. In December 2021, electric cars made up 26% of sales and this figure is only set to increase in line with government imposed rules to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK in 2030.
A new skillset
The core practises and education included in driving lessons will stay the same, with road signals and best practice safety continuing to be prioritised. But, as electric cars are all automatic and the practicalities of driving automatic over manual are significant, there are a few key differences compared to petrol or diesel manual vehicles. These include:
- The use of clutch and gears. Without the need to find the bite on a hill start or master the gear change at the right time, some learners find it easier to progress in an EV.
- Differences in acceleration. While having no clutch often speeds up the learning process, it is still a skill to learn how to accelerate and brake appropriately. Furthermore, regenerative braking is very different on electric cars and needs to be understood as a very different “feel”.
- Ensuring that newly passed drivers understand how to use their electric car, how to locate chargers and plan journeys will become a key part of the driving course.
- Learners will need to demonstrate their ability to observe and anticipate battery usage.
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