When Greysteel teenager Shona McLaughlin gets behind the wheel she draws plenty of double takes - but that’s because it’s no ordinary wheel she is getting to grips with.
The 18 year-old is in the cab of a six wheeler, 19-tonne truck and is believed to be the youngest female in the UK to pass her Heavy Good Vehicle (HGV) first time around.
To add to her amazing success, the former St. Mary’s student passed the Category C LGV test in just four days.
“I taught Shona how to drive the car, and she passed that, and then I said I was putting her through the lorry test,” explained well-known Limavady man, Lawrence Deehan, owner of LCD Driving Academy in Limavady.
“Shona looked at me and then she looked at the lorry and said, ’I’ll never drive that’. I told her little over a week ago she was doing the test on Monday past and she said ’no way’, but I knew she could do it. So I took her out for an hour that first evening and thought I might have to spend more time with her, but I was amazed. We started last Wednesday, were out on the Thursday and Friday and Shona did the test on Monday and, fair play to her, she passed it. Just four minor faults.””
As for Shona, she still can’t quite believe what she has achieved.
“When Lawrence told me I was going for the test, I looked at the lorry and thought, ‘I’ll never drive that’. He said, ’you will’ and I said,‘I won’t. Look at the size of it’, but then he told me I was going for my test and I thought, ‘right’. The test was an hour and a half in Derry. It was grand.”
After navigating the streets of the city, examiner Martin Dunleavy delivered the news she still finds hard to absorb.
“I was trying to keep a straight face when he told me I had passed because I could see Lawrence looking to see my reaction, to see if I passed. Then I just burst into smiles. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Not one to rest on her success for long Shona - now licensed to drive a 32-tonne eight-wheeler tipper truck - wants to step things up a gear.
“The goal is to hook on the trailer and go for the C+E test. I’ll go for the bus test, whatever I can. There’s no point stopping now,” she said, coolly.
So what do family and friends think?
“My friends are calling me ‘Road Queen’ and my dad is over the moon and my brother is a bit jealous as he wanted to do it. I am hoping other girls will try it now too,” she said, hoping women will see the world of lorries and truck isn’t just for men.
“I do get funny looks. You drive past a boy in a sheep lorry and he looks at you and you can see him think, what!” said Shona, who plays gaelic for Faughanvale GAC, adding, “I love driving. I could drive all day if I could.”
As for Lawrence, who during his years as a trucker clocked up millions of miles driving the “highways and byways of Europe”, he said Shona’s success is remarkable.
“She’s very able and confident and she listened to what I told her. She is very able to read the road and always puts safety first. On the day, the examiner Martin Dunleavy was great, he really put her at ease, but I knew she could do it,” he said. “It’s a big success for me but, at the end of the day, I can only show her.””
He added: “There’s no doubt though, she gets a lot of double takes on the road.””