Charlotte driving schools add to state's free instruction
Inattention is the number one cause of wrecks, according to the Charlotte Department of Transportation. (Photo courtesy of North Carolina DMV)
Angie's List member Judy Trest has lived in Boston, New Hampshire, California and now, Charlotte. She ranks Queen City drivers the worst she's ever seen. "I'd rather drive in L.A. than here," she says. "Because they live in Charlotte, they think they are NASCAR drivers when they get on the highway."
Consequently, when it came time for her granddaughter to drive, Trest paid $240 to enroll her in a professional defensive driving school to make sure she got the best instruction in the safest possible environment.
In paying for driver's education, Trest took the road less traveled. North Carolina offers free driver's education to all high school students: 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours behind the wheel. It's one of only eight states that still offers it for free, says Connie Sessoms Jr., Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' driver education specialist.
But six hours behind the wheel isn't enough time to become a competent driver, Sessoms says. "Experts tell us it takes approximately 30,000 miles of driving before a child will become proficient," he says.
From the time a learner's permit is issued, which can be as young as age 15, to the time it becomes an unrestricted license at 18, it's up to parents to fill in the gaps, says Sessoms, who is also president of the North Carolina Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association and on the board of the American Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association.
For Trest, filling in the gaps meant hiring AAA Driving School, now Best Driving School in Charlotte, which is licensed by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. A school's license may be checked by calling 919-715-7000.
Trest gave Best Driving School mostly B's in her report on Angie's List, but says she ranked it overall with a C grade because the school didn't teach parallel parking. "That's one of my pet peeves — parallel parking," she says.
Best Driving owner Terri Denning says she teaches parallel parking if specifically asked, but pointed out that it's not included in the state driving test and she'd rather focus on skills that are tested.
No other Charlotte-area driving schools have current ratings on the List.
Margaret Helms, owner of state-licensed Helms Driving School Inc. in Charlotte, says a professional instructor offers advantages, such as a car with "student driver" signs and a passenger-side brake.
The passenger brake makes it safer for her to put the student into difficult traffic situations, Helms says, whereas many parents may be reluctant to let their child leave the parking lot. "They are not going to learn in a parking lot how to lane change, how to merge, how to interact with other traffic," she says.
But driving school is not just for teens. Helms says she also teaches adults who've never driven before. She charges $45 an hour with discounts for buying blocks of time. She charges $350 for something similar to the school district's free classes.