Children as young as eight have been caught driving on public roads in recent years, new figures have revealed.
The legal minimum age for driving a car is 17, with 16-year-olds allowed to ride mopeds but figures from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) show that police have caught thousands of youngsters breaking the law.
The data, released to Select Car Leasing following a Freedom of Information request, shows that 16-year-olds are the worst offenders, chancing their luck just before they can legally obtain a licence. Since 2018, 6,306 16-year-olds have been disqualified for driving without a licence.
However, the figures also show that children as young as eight have been caught and handed a disqualification in the last three and half years.
The DVLA revealed that in 2018 and 2019 between one and five in that age group were caught, however, it did not give an exact number because it “could lead to the identification of individuals”.
A similarly small number of 11-year-olds were caught in each of the two years, with a total of 48 12-year-olds disqualified by the courts between 2018 and 2019.
The latest figures show a dramatic increase in the number of underage drivers disqualified in recent years. DVLA figures show that in 2017 1,024 bans were issued, rising to 3,541 in 2019. That dropped to 2,981 last year when the country was in lockdown for prolonged periods.
In the first half of this year 259 offenders have been handed a disqualification.
Any disqualification handed down to a non-licence holder starts from their date of conviction, meaning that in many cases offenders are free to apply for a licence when they turn 17.
Graham Conway, managing director of Select Car Leasing, said: “These figures are hugely worrying for anyone who legally ventures onto the roads.
“Not only are these underage motorists driving without a licence, they also have no insurance and obviously a complete lack of training and practice required to safely take charge of a vehicle.
“They are therefore putting the lives of many people in danger – other drivers and passengers, plus pedestrians who could be involved in serious incidents if things go badly wrong.
“Even more worrying is the fact that this data is only for those who have been caught. There are bound to be many more underage drivers who undertake this potentially lethal pursuit and have so far escaped prosecution.”
A spokesman for the DVLA said: “Non-licence holders disqualified by a court are dealt with in the same way as GB driving licence holders.
“In such cases a non-licence holder record is set up so that the offence can be recorded.
“Once the disqualification period has expired, the individual, on reaching the legal age to obtain a driving licence, may apply to do so.
“Any licence issued will show the details of any current endorsements.”