How to choose a driving school

How to chose a driving school: What is driver training

How to choose a driving school is a guide for parents in understanding some of the complexities of preparing their teen drivers and how to choose the driving school, that is right for you

We all believe driving is easy and as such, teaching someone how to drive, is easy too.

What we don’t consider is that learning to drive is as scary as teaching a person to drive.

Even back in the 60s, a favourite saying with racers and driver training advocates, is there is only two things you can’t critise in a driver

  1. their ability as a driver
  2. Their prowess as a partner

You see, both are the only two things that we are left to learn from our own devices. As we are both the student and the teacher, we naturally think we are doing an exceptional job and whoa behove the person who states otherwise.

How many times when you go for a drive, do you criticize the other drivers you share the road with?

How often do you watch the news, read the papers, see the internet and find yourself shocked at just how often people crash cars, the trauma, the pain for those left behind and think “There has to be a better way.”

Our first question, Why Driver Training

When the system is failing learner drivers

Young drivers die at the rate of almost 1 per day nationally. This is an average daily cost of approximately $2.67 million for this age group.

For every fatality there are approximately 35 accident victims admitted to hospital. This represents an average daily cost of approximately $7,490,000 in the 15-24 age group.

They represent only 13% of the drivers on our roads, yet account for 23% of all accidents.

The focus for getting a drivers’ license is to pass the driving test. Yet statistics show that immediately after this milestone their accident rate spikes 30 times their pre license rate to be in excess of 5 times the accepted rate for licensed drivers.

In NSW alone a 25% reduction in youth driver and youth passenger fatalities and serious accident hospital admissions means the DP will save the NSW economy over $1 billion per year once the program is fully implemented.

This data emphasizes the importance of ensuring that all youth drivers have access to the best available driver training and that this training includes a focus on safe driving attitudes and behaviours, in addition to the systematic development of a comprehensive set of driver competencies.

In addition, the timing of the program is crucial if it is to effectively address the danger periods shown in the above graph.

When your teenager hits the age of being able to get their learner’s licence, enrolling them in a professional driving school is the best decision you will ever make. This choice may even end up saving their life.

A driving school allows a teenager to learn the right techniques in a safe environment. With minimal distractions, many new drivers find a driving school a good place to start as it helps to build confidence and competence, before actually taking to busy roads.

What is driver training?

The current driver licensing system mandates a driver do 100 hours of driving, but who prepares you, to prepare them?

This unfortunately is where the entire process starts to head south, in fact, what separates a “Professional” driving instructor from yourself, your parents or any other supervisor?

What will define the process, how are you going to measure the parameters to know if you are on track or deviating down the wrong path?

It is interesting that in this day and age, this is the only industry that does not have a definition for what it stands for, for what its curriculum projects from.

A program called “The Keys to Drive” received $20m. in government funding, yet its principle call to action is to tell parents to sit still, stay quiet and let the student driver work out how to do it……..

Lets think about that for a moment, can you name another form of education, that actively encourages the student, to define the learning process and find their own way?

Then they sit a driving test, where the governments own statistics state their post licence accident rate, will spike 30 times their pre-licence accident rate. That as a group, they will represent only 13% of the driving population and yet be responsible for 27% of all vehicle accidents.

What this all shows, is that the approach and emphasis of the driver training and preparation, is misplaced when it comes to student capability and proficiency.

So, back to our original question ”How to choose a driving school”

What is Driver Training?

  1. The core challenge is how our brains process threats and hazard information, it is called embodied cognitive skill. So everything we want to do naturally, that kept us alive in our normal environment, is now creating and compunding the risk, as we hop behind the wheel, as we introduce speed, and our brainds cannot process speed.

So Driver training, or “Driver Development” as I prefer to call it, is about retraining the brains natural process, so we can stall the effect of speed, essentially buying time.

Once we teach them how to buy time, they can see.
Once they can see, then they make completely different decisions. This is what driver training actually is, a series of techniques, knowledge and skills, that puts the driver in control of what they create, changing their driver behaviour and crash rates.

This is achieved by addressing four key areas.

There is more to driving lessons than just driving around for an hour
  1. Skills via a refined technique, that matches
    1. Cognitive development,
    1. Hand and eye co-ordination with
    1. Postural stability.
    1. Technique
  • Emotional development. Having the right mindset is essential, unfortunately in life, perfect days are not that common. Learning to manage these emotions is essential to making good decisions as a driver, that reduces our risk.
  • Environmental: Good Driving is all about good decision making, this means creating a balance between environmental, and by that I just don’t mean roads and weather, it is also about peer response, mechanical empathy and surrounding influences., A basic understanding of the relationship between car and environment, forces, physics and dynamics and how this affects our decision making abilities.

This is all affected by postural stability.

Practice is fine, first you must know what to practice
  • Awareness: this is how we bring all the relationships together. One of the key goals of any driver development program should be to teach students how to buy time. How to manage and slow down the environmental input, so they can see what is really happening, and make the right decisions with enough time to manage and implement and manage to the desired outcome. This creates self awareness and more importantly, self assessment and this is where the learning really starts to project from.

Why is all of this so important?

Well, simply put, No one ever gets the luxury of booking an accident. No one ever tells you any of this information, and this is only the headlines, the tip of the iceberg.

See if you just consider your eyes and vision for a moment, there are three types of vision that we all drive and function with.

  1. Peripheral
  2. Tunnel
  3. Depth.

Now all of this works perfectly in our natural environment, but when you start driving, you introduce speed and our brains cannot process speed. This is where it gets both interesting and scary.

The first thing our brain does is react to the apprehension, it closes our peripheral vision down to Tunnel vision, suddenly we have a compromised window of information, that means every decision we make is now compromised, based on all the information that we did not and could not see.

As the crisis heightens, we lose our tunnel vision as our planning collapses to only our comfort / safe area. For most people that is only three – five metres ahead.

This is why drivers hit the only thing there is to hit. Not because they were bad drivers, but due to a lack of postural stability, a compromised window of information and a shot of adrenalin when they least needed it, our entire threats and hazard process worked against us.

They literally created our own accident.

“Driver training gives you a technique that reverses the natural threats, hazard, perception process. “

This is only one facet of driving technique and driver development. So whilst the Graduated Licensing Scheme (GLS) mandates you do 100 hours of driving with your teen, who prepares you, to prepare them?

Remember my intro at the start of the book.

  • How many times when you go for a drive, do you criticize the other drivers you share the road with?
  • How often do you watch the news, read the papers, see the internet and find yourself shocked at just how often people crash cars, the trauma, the pain for those left behind and think “There has to be a better way.”

See it is these people, people just like you, your circle of friends, family, work colleagues, who are not only the drivers we are criticising, they, and we, are the ones teaching our kids how to drive.

We haven’t even started the holiday season yet, and they accidents and fatalities are rolling in thick and fast.

How do you select a driving school?

Anyone can call themselves a driving instructor, but what is their experience, knowledge base, process. How do you ensure outcome and competence?

How do you ensure you are making the most correct decision, that will help them against the statistics and odds?

I would love to give you a magic bullet, tell you the industry is full of professionals and that your kids are in safe hands. But the governments own statistics show this simply isn’t the case.

How to chose a driving school

A1. Is there only value proposition how quick, and how cheap? Or is their focus skills development, with process, reporting and communication that involves you, the parents, as a stakeholder in the process.

A2. If they offer packages, is that just a grouping process, that offers discounts as an incentive for bundles of lessons, but does not clarify what the lessons are, apart from driving around for an hour of time?

A3. What is the instructors backgrounds? What makes them qualified as a professional driving instructor? Any person can do a course, it is simply a four day course in how to run a small business, they are then told they will learn the rest for themselves as they go. (I kid you not)

These are a starting point to what I would be looking for if I was looking for a driving school to prepare my son or daughter.

As a professional, it often intrigues me, that as the learner driver training industry has no value proposition, apart from how quick or how cheap. Parents use this as part of their decision making process, yet what they are trying to protect, has infinite value and is irreplaceable. I have unfortunately known a couple who did loose their child, through cancer, the loss was a destructive on their lives, love and emotions, as the cancer was with their child.

Driver training is not a cost, it is an investment. The way I would approach the decision, is the same as for any big decision, car, house, education.

What background and experience does your driving school have

This is so much more than how long have they been running as a business, teaching driving, been an advocate etc.

When I taught performance and race driving for my living, I always had one golden rule. If I walked into a room of people and instantly felt uncomfortable, I was in the best place I could be. Why? It meant I had to step up to a new level.

It wasn’t until I was in Malaysia with the Mercedes Benz F1 program, I walked into the main function room for dinner, it was exquisite, sumptuous and extravagant all in one. It was during this evening, I realised everyone there was the same as me. What I learnt from this was I had climbed the tree. I had learnt everything I had set out to and in the process, achieved so much more. It was a defining moment in life.

So if your proposed instructors pitch is they have taught hundreds of kids and they have all passed their driving test, I would most likely keep moving until I found someone whose experience impressed me.

It is not about passing the test. Monkeys pass tests. It is about how well they are prepared for the challenges ahead as a licensed driver. I have seen many very capable drivers fail the driving test, through nerves, pressure (self applied) and a host of other external influences that were unique to their test drive.
Yet I have also seen many people pass who should never be allowed in a car. So focus on how well they are prepared to be accountable as good drivers post licence.

(Case study)

We had a student once, who already had an automatic drivers licence. Her parents had bought her a manual car and she needed to re-sit her driving test to drive it.

On her first lesson, she openly admitted she had no idea on how she passed her driving test, that she scared every person who sat with her and not even her parents or closest friends trusted her. She was one of the only drivers I have ever encountered where I made a decision, that I could not prepare her. She would literally take her hands of the wheel, cover her eyes, stamp her feet, just because the car in front, indicated and stopped to turn right.

And she had a drivers licence. She had had driving lessons and she was sharing the road with us all and all she wanted was to sit the test to drive her new car. There was no desire to be the driver she could and should have aspired to be.

Whose information will protect me and guide me safely

  • Do they provide a report of lesson performance, for transparency and accountability if nothing else.
  • Do they guide you to help your teen practice.
  • Do they just take of as soon as the lesson is finished.
  • Do they seem to do endless lessons on mindless tasks.
  • Parallel parking
    • Roundabouts
    • Reversing in a straight line.

We get so many students (and I promised I would not plug our program here, but I feel this is relevant) who have had endless lessons such as the above. Invariably we could identify their driving challenge within 100 metres of driving. We would then implement the process and before you know it, life is good and so is their driving.

The instructors they had many have been cheap, however the repetition means it was a great expense.

Often students and parents who are our greatest advocates, are the ones who have been to one or two other schools and in frustration, asked their friends and peers who recommended our program. They have experienced both sides of the fence.

Plug over…………….

Who will actually deliver and be accountable, long after the sales pitch has been delivered.

Ok, this section is all about the Total Driver program. I believe it is interesting and worth the read.

I don’t believe in pressure sales, simply because I believe so much in what we do and who we are. But as an industry comparison, it is good to identify and benchmark so you can make your choices on driving instructors to not only prepare your teen, but ensure they do not form the all too common statistics.


Total Driver’s Driver Development Program (DDP) is an integrated suite of learning modules that is competency based; which separates the key areas of learning and development into a timeline. This starts and finishes with two free school education programs

The program separates theory from practical; emotional from attitudinal; and identifies and addresses why young drivers create accidents and high risk situations.

The program covers:

  • Postural stability
  • Hand to Eye technique and co ordination
  • Muscle memory (controlled reactions vs uncontrolled over reactions.)
  • Mind mapping (decision making process utilising close distance, long distance and peripheral vision skills.)
  • Road rules and driving environments (night, hazardous, variable and changeable conditions)
  • Hazard perception and vision skills development
  • The mental and emotional aspects of driving
  • Self regulation and self assessment

Compare to industry standard:  The program differs from conventional driving lessons as it is a cumulative learning process that creates a three way partnership between parent, student and facilitator; is supported at either end with two complementary schools programs, S.A.F.E. & S.L.A.M. and has a core definition of what driving projects from.

It is the integration of skills and elements, the reinforcement process and the techniques that allows the program to reprogram muscle memory and mind mapping skill sets of drivers, changing their driving culture and risk assessment decision making process.

The theoretical elements are covered with the E book tuition program, Schools education programs – SAFE and SLAM Visual reinforcement is through the DVDs, youtube and electronic media.

The reporting process of lesson performance is via proprietary software that is accessible via four levels. An App gives the instructor access to daily and weekly scheduling calendar and provides reporting with a grading system. The process drives two graphs, one for lesson performance and the other for progress against the benchmark.

Parents as training partners:  The reporting process provides parents with transparency on lesson performance; including them in the learning process. What to practice, how to reinforce practice; how much practice is required; defining practice routes; all in a cumulative process of driver development.

The Total Drive program is being researched by Griffith university, it is a three year project that will take our field experience and validate the numbers and statistics.

Why is the research validated:   Research suggests that conventional training programs are unlikely to lead to safety benefits. However what the research does not say is that “Evaluating the endeavour to improve young driver development programs continues to be the exception, not the rule.” (Glendon 2011b)

Of the schemes evaluated,

  • Many use only participant feedback,
  • Comparatively few are evaluated in terms of behavioural outcomes or at skills based level.
  • No programs have interlinked the key objectives into an end to end process.

The Total Driver Difference:  Current review of Total Driver students; shows that on average, they are four times less likely to be involved in accidents and anti social behaviour.  An economic break down of the NSW economy, based on 60% market penetration over three years shows a One Billion dollar benefit to the NSW economy per annum

There is a demonstrated history of students who have struggled with “Learning to Drive” with existing providers, yet produced outstanding results in the Total Driver program.

There has been numerous students with learning disabilities including on various levels of the ASD, (Autism Spectrum Disorder) who again were told they would never drive, have gone on to not only be successful with the driving test, but also record a non accident, non violation driving experience.

Program goals: The research project with Griffith University aims to establish this as a long term (three year) research project, benchmarked with two groups, control and non control, against an established set of parameters.

Our aim is to demonstrate a substantial reduction in the post licence accident rate compared to not only the post L plate phase but also the mean accident rate as the benchmark.

This also presents the solution as a viable and cost effective road safety and legislation initiative; globally; as it can be implemented using the current industry structure and policies.

As such there is global opportunity associated with the research project.

Testimonials and case studies

Dear Reader,

I’m writing as a former student of Total Driver, and would like to fully endorse them in both excellence of driver training, and commitment to running a company determined to create the best possible outcomes of their students. In December 2005 I started learning to drive with a local driving school. The training received was that of most driving schools in Australia. Within two months I was to go for my practical driving exam. Several days before that date, while practicing with a friend, I was involved in a near fatal accident, which to this day I have no memory of. I’m told that I drove through a stop sign at an intersection and was t-boned by a council bus directly into the driver’s side door. After almost a year of rehabilitation and multiple surgeries, I began the search for a new driving school. Due to past events, I was looking for the absolute best in the industry. I saw Total Driver in the Yellow Pages and noted the experience with race driver training. After calling and talking to Gene about my accident I felt like I had found exactly what I was looking for. During my first lesson I was extremely impressed. The fear I had of returning to driving was greatly diminished with Gene’s professionalism in the subject. Before we even turned the car on we went through the details of how to correctly set up a car for driving, as well as many of the advanced techniques used in driving. The training was exceptional, and far different from what I received from a regular driving school. I wasn’t left to drive how ‘felt best for me’ and ‘as long as I can pass my exam’ was far from what was being emphasized. Rather I was taught exactly how to control a car, as well as deal with many different situations. At first it was much more difficult because I had to actually train myself to use these techniques, rather than use any method, as long as I ticked the exam boxes. I also did Total Driver’s advanced training day. This was extremely useful, as it taught me a lot about how cars act is various situations, as well as how to avoid them, both in theory and as practical training. After several months I went for my driving test, and came out with a wonderful report. I remember the examiner writing ‘good drive’, emphasized in large capital letters. In the two and a half years since that day, I’ve been driving almost every day, on almost every street, with the upmost confidence, and to this day haven’t lost a speck of paint. I’ve been able to avoid countless situations, where without the training and confidence I received at Total Driver, may have ended in a Total Mess. I would like to thank Gene, Mike and all others that make Total Driver what it is. A company devoted to being the best driver trainers possible. They put countless hours and resources into what they believe in, 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. As a student that owes so much to them, I would support any business related or otherwise involvement with Total Driver and any of their devoted staff.

Yours sincerely, Cameron Henderson

On Behalf of my family I thought I would pen this letter to express our sincere thanks and appreciation for our son Daniels participation in your program.

Unfortunately, Daniel was recently involved in a major motor accident and it has since been proven that he correctly did all he could just prior to the accident. Due to having cameras in the vehicle we know exactly what happened. The benefits of knowing he was clipped by another vehicle have huge ramifications in areas such as his driving record, insurance and self confidence.

Overall the benefits of Daniels involvement in the program are immeasurable. We wish you all the very best with your business endeavours now that we have first hand experience of what young and inexperienced drivers can gain from being part of your program.

Good luck with advancing the program

Neil Paton, JP (Qual)

I have been involved with driver training entities for the last 20 years, varying from improving road skills of company drivers, providing information and a base for practical safe handling of motor vehicles under extreme conditions, through to enhancement of race craft.

Throughout this period I have never found such an organisation with such unparralled commitment to safety and customer satisfaction like Total Driver.

Total Driver has been involved with the XR6 and XR8 club of QLD and has already shown commitment to the Ford sporting car club, currently in formation.

This in conjunction with the attitude towards improving the general safety of all road users is to be commended.

Chris Wylie  (aimm)

Dominoes Pizza

Dominoes began a relationship with Total Driver in early 2006. The relationship came about through Domino’s sponsorship of V8 Supercars’ driver Craig Lowndes and his Triple 8 Racing team. The sponsorship and relationship with Total Driver focuses on making Domino’s pizza delivery drivers the safest on the road.

In 2006, Total Driver is conducting safer driver courses for 40 delivery drivers in each major Australian and New Zealand market. The feedback to date from not only drivers, but also our franchisees and store managers has been extremely positive and should make the Total Driver Team proud.

It goes without saying that Total Driver has exceeded Domino’s expectations in 2006. The team are extremely easy to deal with and have made the safe driver project seem effortless.  Their support for Domino’s has been outstanding.

Domino’s relationship with Total Driver has been very valuable in 2006 and is  one that Domino’s plans to grow with Gene and his team.

Selena Giles

Domino’s Pizza

Drive for Drivers program coordinator

Written By



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Graduates of Total Driver have a 400% reduction in accidents over the first 3 years of obtaining their license, in comparison to the national average*.

The question we ask all supervisors:

“Will you bet your child’s life you have the skills to teach the art of driving?”