Monday, September 14, 2009

Teen driving: Choosing a driving school

The Bob Bondurant School offers programs for new drivers.

Most states now require that a novice driver younger than 18 complete a driver's education program, so you need to sign up with a state-certified school. But which one is right for your teenager? The Yellow Pages offer numerous choices, and a Google search is likely to turn up several more.
William Van Tassel, AAA's manager of driver training programs, notes that the auto club has recently begun a program whereby it "approves" driving schools that meet certain standards, similar to the way its long-standing AAA-approved auto-repair facilities program operates.

"Parents often look for convenience first--price, timing, proximity to their home," he says. "Quality often doesn't enter into that equation."
The AAA-approved list provides guidance, but Van Tassel recommends that even those choosing among approved schools should visit several rather than just call.
"Find out if they're a member of one of the professional associations that offer training for instructors. Ask if the driving portion involves a fixed route or whether it's just up to the instructor. A fixed route helps the instructor focus on the driving rather than navigation."
Van Tassel also said that this helps prevent some abuses, such as instructors who use the time to run personal errands.
"Take a look at the cars and make sure they're well-maintained. Ask about the student-teacher ratio; a good one would be about 6:1, or 30 students for five instructors. Ask to see the textbook and about the curriculum. Good schools will offer a parent class or invite you to attend the first session. The really good ones keep the parents involved with regular updates throughout the session and perhaps some advice about the student's strengths and weaknesses."
AAA publishes several brochures that can help parents make these decisions, including one titled "How to Choose a Driving School"--it includes a checklist to help with comparison shopping--and a parent guide called "Welcoming Your New Driver," which can be found at www.aaa.com or at your local AAA office.
Also, look into the National Safety Council's "Alive at 25" programs at www.teendriver.nsc.org.

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