Learning to drive can be an overwhelming experience! Driving school is a practical way to learn the rules of the road in a controlled, safer environment. Taking an approved driver’s education course also has other practical benefits; it can allow new drivers to move faster through the provincial graduated licensing system and it can also help reduce their insurance premiums. We spoke with Monika Shah, an in-car and in-class instructor at the Art of Good Drivers Training Centre in Mississauga, who gave us these suggestions about how to get the most out of the driving school experience.
Why is driving school important?
Shah says that one of the key benefits of driving school is that it teaches new drivers about real and current issues on the road. This includes updated rules and recent statistics. A key goal of driving school: to teach students “what a high risk driver is and what to watch out for on the road,” Shah says.
The in-class portion typically includes teaching teenagers about the dangers of combining drinking or drugs with driving. Driving school may also include the chance to speak with people who have experienced collisions. Shah’s classes include presentations that warn students about how mistakes on the road can impact their insurance.
The in-car lessons teach practical skills, like how to maneuver the vehicle and how to be aware of what is occurring around you.
Driving school should open students’ eyes to the fact that driving is a serious responsibility, Shah says.
Getting comfortable behind the wheel
Shah suggests that new drivers start in an empty parking lot. This can be done with the driving instructor or, before you start classes, with a parent or other experienced person who is allowed to oversee a new driver. (Check your provincial or territorial regulations to see who is qualified.) To start, Shah says it is important to get comfortable with the gas and brake pedals. Move forward and stop. Get the feel of the gas and brake. Do not even worry about things like turning or parking, she suggests; these can be taught by the driving instructor.
How to choose a driving school
Before signing up, Shah suggests visiting the school, seeing the offices and talking to the instructors. That will help make a decision on the school and whether it is seems like good fit for the student.
Also, make sure the school is licensed with your province. Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, for instance, has a website that includes not only a list of approved driving schools, but also the names of schools that have had their licenses revoked.
Driving schools can cost anywhere from $300 to $1300, Shah says. However, she says, the curriculum is mandated by the province and so all schools in Ontario must follow the same guidelines. At the end of the day, all students receive the same certificate. A more expensive driving school does not offer students a better certificate or better discount, Shah says.
Getting the most out of driving school
Shah suggests that students do their in-class and in-car portions of driver education together. That way, what is learned in class can then be applied on the road. For instance, in class, students are taught about control devices. Then, during the in-car lesson, they will hopefully remember the tips explained them in class, like to not slam on the brakes but press them gently.
Shah also discourages people from dragging out the process. She suggests completing the program within a month or so.
On top of scheduled classes and in-car lessons, Shah reminds drivers that they need to practice on their own. She suggests spending about an hour every day with an accompanying driver, rehearsing what was learned with the school instructor, so that by the next lesson the student is ready to move on and learn new things. Otherwise, Shah warns, students can waste their 10 hours of instruction time going back and forth, practicing and re-learning instead of developing new skills.
Common bad habits
One big benefit of driving school is that it helps alert students to bad driving habits. Shah suggests that drivers be particularly aware of some of the following common mistakes:
Tailgaiting. Following too closely is a common mistake, Shah says, and most collisions involve someone hitting another vehicle from the back. A tailgating driver will always be found at fault in the event of an accident, she warns.
Not checking your blind spots. Students often make the mistake of only relying on their mirrors and not checking behind them. You cannot see your blind spot through your mirrors, Shah says—that’s why it is called a blind spot!
Merging too slowly on the highway. New drivers are often nervous to merge at a hundred kilometers per hour, Shah says. She warns that trying to merge slowly is dangerous, impedes traffic and forces braking on the highway. She says that instructors emphasize no braking on a freeway!
Tips for parents
“Parents can make a big difference,” Shah says. She gives the following suggestions on how experienced drivers can help train someone new behind the wheel:
Talk to the instructor. Shah suggests that after a driving student has taken two or three lessons, the parents should discuss the student’s progress with the instructor. Ask if it is okay to take the child on the road. Is it safe? Can they handle it, or do they need a few more lessons before they are ready to practice on the road with their parents?
Start with the basics. Start in an empty parking lot, Shah says, and start with the elementary skills. Some parents assume that their teenagers know where the signal, gas or brakes are located; they actually may not at their first time behind the wheel. “Show them control and comfort devices,” Shah says.
Always involve them when driving. Shah suggests that when parents are driving, they point out other drivers and highlight their mistakes. This helps alert the student to what their parents watch for on the road.
Let them drive places. Shah suggests that an easy way to keep their teens practicing is, once they are ready, letting them doing the driving when going places in the daytime like the mall or a restaurant.
See who works for you. Sometimes, one parent’s teaching style is more effective for the student than the other. Shah suggests sticking with the adult that works better.
All students are hesitant the first couple of lessons, Shah says, but many (especially teenagers) get comfortable very quickly.
Learning to drive is an exciting rite of passage and a serious responsibility. Taking the right approach will help ensure that this next generation of drivers are best prepared for the challenges of the road.