The Need For Safer Driving Among Young Drivers
Statistics from the Department for Transport reveal that young drivers, particularly those aged between 17 and 24, are more likely to be involved in accidents and have higher injury rates compared to other age groups. Fueled by the need to make driving safer for young individuals, Ian Mulingani, the driving force behind Young Driver, initiated the program to give driving lessons to children between the ages of 10 and 17. However, the demand from parents with younger siblings led to the realization that children as young as four could benefit from these lessons.
The Birth of the Firefly Mk I
“Parents would bring along younger brothers and sisters who wanted to try our driving lessons, but children of this age were too small to drive the standard, road-going cars we use for 10- to 17-year-olds,” says Ian. “I tasked our team to buy some small electric cars, but they couldn’t find anything suitable. They were either unrealistic toys, not durable enough for our needs, or collectors’ items costing £30,000-plus. I realized we needed to make our own.”
In 2016, Ian spearheaded a collaborative effort with external partners to develop the initial model of the Firefly, which became known as the Firefly Mk I. This miniature electric car was specifically designed to meet the unique needs of young children interested in learning to drive.
A total of 12 Firefly cars were produced for the pilot phase, allowing approximately 12,000 lessons to be delivered to young drivers as young as four years old. The early version of the Firefly proved to be a resounding success, with positive feedback from both children and parents alike.
Over the course of four years, as the Firefly cars were put to use, the team had to replace the batteries a few times. However, the Parvalux motors remained exceptionally reliable, ensuring the cars’ consistent performance. These motors were initially recommended by the team’s engineering partner and proved to be an ideal choice for delivering the required speed and power.
While the motors demonstrated exceptional durability, the bodies of the Firefly Mk I cars were subject to wear and tear due to the enthusiastic young drivers behind the wheel. Instead of simply refurbishing the existing cars, the team saw an opportunity to enhance the design and create a new and improved model.
The Firefly Sport
Ian leveraged his automotive background and enlisted the expertise of Dr. Ian Pogson who said, “This time, we ran the car development project just like we had done at JLR.” Dr. Ian Pogson was a former colleague from Jaguar-Land Rover, who led the design and development of the electric powertrain for the Firefly Sport. Drawing inspiration from their experience at JLR, they approached the new car’s development with a methodical and rigorous approach, ensuring optimal performance, safety, and user experience.
With an upgraded aluminum chassis featuring independent suspension and rack and pinion steering, the Firefly Sport boasted improved stability and maneuverability. To ensure the new car’s design met the preferences of its young user group, the team conducted surveys among drivers under 10 years old, allowing them to incorporate valuable insights into the body design.
Throughout this process, the team reaffirmed their confidence in motors from Parvalux. The motors were selected for their exceptional performance, including high starting torque and controlled speed delivery. The Firefly Sport adopted twin rear-mounted PMDC right-angle motors, one per rear wheel, in combination with a Parvalux GB9 right-angle worm wheel gearbox, optimizing torque control for an enhanced driving experience.
“The motors provided the speed and power we needed, and they just kept going with no maintenance required, so we knew they would give us the right performance,” says Dr. Pogson.
“Removing and replacing the battery during a Young Driver session isn’t a practical solution,” says Ian, where the Young Driver team provides 15-minute lessons from morning to late afternoon. “Instead, we needed a lightweight, efficient motor, combined with the right battery technology, that can run all day.”
The Firefly Sport’s lightweight design, weighing just under 200kg, allowed for extended operating hours. The car could run for up to eight hours on a single charge, reaching speeds of approximately 5mph. This speed range was carefully chosen to provide an optimal balance between excitement and safety for young drivers.
To further emphasize their commitment to sustainability, the Young Driver team implemented a solar power system for recharging the specialist high-cell batteries used in the Firefly Sport. This approach minimized running costs and ensured a zero-emissions operation, aligning with the growing focus on environmental responsibility.
Overall, the development of the Firefly Mk I and its subsequent evolution into the Firefly Sport exemplified Young Driver’s dedication to providing a realistic, safe, and enjoyable driving experience for young children.
Enhancing Safety with Practical Engineering Support
Maxon’s engineering support played a crucial role in optimizing safety features. Their guidance helped implement measures to prevent the car from moving when the accelerator pedal is disengaged, enhancing safety during stationary moments or on slopes.
“We had already adjusted the motor on the workbench without success, so maxon came to see the car and showed us that after the turnbuckle adjustment, the motor required a load and resistance for the brake to function” says Dr. Pogson. “Just 15 minutes, hands-on with the car, was all it took to resolve our challenge.”
Expanding Reach and Impact
With six cars completed and plans to expand production, Young Driver Motor Cars is ready to meet the increasing demand. Already receiving 150 inquiries from around the world, the Firefly Sport is set to retail for approximately £11,000. However, the primary objective of Young Driver is to expand the availability of driving lessons for young individuals, aiming to reduce the accident rate for newly qualified drivers significantly.
“The national average rate for young drivers suffering an accident in the first six months after passing their driving test is 20%, but for Young Driver pupils, it’s just 3.8%, a safety improvement of over 80%,” says Ian.
“Young Driver lessons normalize driving as an experience,” says Ian. “If you’ve been driving since you were younger than 10, there isn’t the same pressure to drive beyond your capabilities when you eventually pass your test. Secondly, the younger you are when you start to learn, the more opportunity your neural networks have to build, improving your driving capabilities and safety. If you’re four years old today, you’ll probably only ever drive an electric car, so Firefly Sport becomes a realistic starting point for your safe driving future.”