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Be prepared before you start to learn

Gran Turismo 5 on the PS3 (or Forza Motorsport if you've got an Xbox 360..) may be great fun, but there's no substitute for the real thing when it comes to preparing for driving a car in the real world. It has been proved that if you are taught to drive properly between the ages of 11 and 16, you'll become a better, more responsible and much safer driver than those who don't start driving until the ages of 17-19.

A lot of race circuits around the country now also offer the chance for under-17 drivers to try to improve their skills. The emphasis here is very much on safety, though budding Jenson Buttons can always book separate events for track driving.

Often overlooked, but just as worthwhile before you start driving lessons is to study the Highway Code. It's full of useful tips and information and it will also help you pass the Theory Test. Several companies offer DVDs to help you through the Theory and Driving tests. Some are more useful than others, so research carefully which one you think will work best for you.

But nothing beats the actual hands on experience of real driving. Luckily, there are a number of 'driving experience' days available throughout the UK for anyone under 17-years old. Learning to pass your test is one thing, but being a good driver in the real world can be quite different.

The Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy World allows anyone to drive on its closed tracks so long as they are 150cm or taller. Based at Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge, Surrey, it offers several programmes including Pre-Road, Provisional Licence and Post-Licence Sessions with the emphasis on developing skills that go beyond controlling the car and mastering traffic situations.

The 'curriculum' has been developed with experts in driver education and is based on research and evidence. As you progress through the Academy you will be awarded by passing various driving skills levels - from Silver Level beginners to Black Level advanced drivers. Session prices start at £40 for 30 minutes.

The SEAT Young Driver Programme has venues around the UK and lets 11-16-year olds try their hand at driving. This course also teaches young drivers good manners and skid control to help them be better drivers when they start driving on the road at 17.

Usefully this programme uses venues across the country, mainly shopping centres, including the NEC Birmingham, Bluewater in Kent, Brent Cross Shopping Centre in North London, Sportcity in Manchester, Silverburn Glasgow, Meadowhall Sheffield and and Cribbs Causeway in Bristol. Lessons cost £29.99 for 30 minutes or £57.99 for 60 minutes ad special offers are available, usually at half term time.

There are many other similar schemes running around the country. To find one near you, have a look at: www.ukunder17driving.co.uk or there's the www.under17-carclub.co.uk. This club has people from all walks of life and almost as many girls as boys. It's not just for petrolheads either. At the annual charity event at Castle Combe, youngsters have driven everything from a 1963 Jaguar E-Type, an Aston Martin Vantage, the "original" Fiat 500 and all manner of others from Porsches down to a Series 1 Land Rover. It's a serious club too, advising the Government on novice drivers.

MINI Drivers@Goodwood is another driver training programme, using the Goodwood circuit as its dedicated base, with fleet of brand new MINI One models fitted with dual controls to teach drivers the essential skills of driving safely and considerately. Anyone reaching a minimum height of 1:5m (4ft 9") can participate, up to the age of 18. Prices start from £99 per session.

The Transport Research laboratory at Crowthorne, Berks, also allows young drivers to use its facilities in conjunction with local driving schools such as the Blue School of Motoring based in Berkshire and Surrey, TRL on 0800 234 6823. These events are usually held on a Saturday afternoon. Yet another is run by Worcester Advanced Motorists. Go to www.worcsgam.org.uk and click on 'Under 17s'. This has been going for 27 years.

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