There are few occasions more nerve-wracking for parents than when their children get behind the wheel and drive off by themselves for the first time. Parents can prepare their offspring for that solo trip by making sure that they've had plenty of behind-the-wheel practice plus time in a classroom with a good driving instructor. But how do you find a driving school that will give your child that good foundation?
If your teen will be old enough for a learner's permit this school year, start by asking neighbors or parents of older children for recommendations. Were they satisfied with their experiences? Was there anything they particularly liked or didn't like about the school?
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is another good resource. The BBB has received more than 700 complaints against driving instruction services in the past two years, according to its website. Enter the name of the driving school you're considering in its online database to see negative feedback.
Check with your state's department of motor vehicles for a list of licensed driving schools. That should ensure that the school you select meets the specific requirements of your state. In California, for example, that would include 25 hours of classroom instruction, home study or Internet training as well as six hours of behind-the wheel training. If your teen takes a course through his or her high school, the school may have additional requirements, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Once you've narrowed your selections, call each driving school to ask some initial questions and then plan a visit to their facilities. AAA recommends that you ask about the student-teacher ratio and ask whether the school is a member of any professional associations like the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association or the Driving School Association of America.
During your visit, examine the textbooks that the school uses to see whether they are up to date, AAA recommends. Are there enough copies for everyone in the class? How old are the training cars that they use, and what safety features do they include?
The quality of the program should be your first consideration, but you'll also need to factor in the price. Ask about course schedules and tuition and about any additional fees or charges so that you can make a fair price comparison.
Before you sign up, make sure that you understand (and get in writing) the school's policy if your child has to miss a class or cancel a driving session at the last minute. Will your teen have the opportunity to make the class up? How soon? Are you charged for a driving session if your teen has to cancel? If your child doesn't like a particular driving instructor, can he request another?
In addition to preparing your teen for the road, driver's education programs can get your family an auto insurance discount. GEICO, for example, offers a discount to teens who've completed a driver training course. And if your teen driver makes good grades this school year, a good student discount (offered by many insurers) can lower your premium as well.