ABU DHABI // Avidar Al Kurdi, 12, did something yesterday that most adults here will never do: he learnt to drive a car with manual gears.
Avidar, from Jordan, was one of five youths aged between 11 and 17 who took part in the First Gear Junior Driver Experience at Yas Marina Circuit.
The class started with an explanation of brakes, the clutch and gear changes, and ended with a 40-minute driving experience behind the wheel of a Renault Clio.
"I controlled the car but not that well," said Avidar, who likened the experience to a video game.
"But I learnt how to use the gas and the brakes."
Jan Meerbeek, the chief instructor at the Yas Racing School, said the course was aimed at giving drivers of the future a chance to flex their motoring muscles early.
Familiarity with operating a car was a key to the youths becoming a good driver when they get their licences, Mr Meerbeek said.
"Other kids go out on the roads at 18 with only 10 to 12 lessons," he said. "Here the kids get the opportunity to learn to drive a car with all the security and safety they should need."
The rules of the road will be dealt with in the second session of the classes next year when "real" roads will be simulated at the circuit, with traffic lights and signs replacing the traffic cones used yesterday.
"At this level it's too much for them to cope with to learn for this first session," Mr Meerbeek said. "This is more about learning how to operate a vehicle safely and how to break and start rolling, take turns and manoeuvre. Of course, the safety element is there but it is more about learning how to drive."
Avidar's father, Dr Firas Al Kurdi, said he liked the idea of implanting the safety message at a young age.
"At this age they will not be able to go to driving schools and they are always thinking of how to drive a car," Dr Al Kurdi said. "I thought it's much better to give them a sense of the car and how to use the gearbox."
Mr Meerbeek said young people's appetite for driving should be fed in a controlled environment.
"Some kids are really interested in cars," he said.
"I was 12 the first time I got behind the wheel. It was one of my most exciting moments and it has never left me."