Training New Drivers When Schools Won't
Things have changed since most of us received our driver education training during our teenage years. What used to be within the purview of brave school teachers has now been passed off to the private sector as many school systems have cut funding for in-school driver’s ed courses. As this trend spread throughout the United States, Washington-based 911 Driving School has profited and expanded to fill the void.
Using current and former law enforcement officers as its instructors, 911 is now up to approximately 65 licensed units in five states with a roster of 21 franchisees. Some are brick-and-mortar locations, and others are satellite locations.
A self-described businessman who sees the great potential of this category, CEO Joe Giammona has been in the driver training industry for 11 years, working for a brand called Swerve Driving School, before laying the groundwork to acquire 911 six years ago.
Florida is one of the 911’s most recent expansions, as the Sunshine State does not require driver’s education beyond a three- to four-hour online drugs and alcohol course.
Asked about the implications of turning over such an important function to the private sector, Giammona chooses his words carefully to avoid sounding insensitive about the challenges of public educators operating in an era of change.
In Washington State, where the brand was founded, driver’s ed providers are required to offer 30 hours of training, with a price point for consumers ranging from $300 in some states up to $650 in Washington, which requires more extensive training than many other states.
When I interjected that it sounds like a rather steep cost—thinking back to my own high school days where I saved precious dollars to buy my first rust bucket—Giammona countered that even $650 is nothing compared to the value of protecting someone’s life.
By having law enforcement officers provide the training, he added they can provide stories from their jobs on the road, and make the potential consequences of driving mistakes in a visceral way that few gym or shop teachers could.
“There’s nothing more powerful in this age of video games,” he said. “You get these instructors up there that say this is what happened last night, they break down the crash scene … here’s the effect of that decision this person made, which is palpable.”
Beyond high school students, a portion of 911’s business comes from driver improvement courses or nannies, as an example, who may be new to driving in the United States. In addition, the company provides fleet training for corporations looking to reduce liability.
Saying that “legislative cycles are huge for us,” Giammona said the company closely watches changes in driver’s education requirements, which often provide entire states as fertile ground for its franchisees.
Under a new administration that seems to value privatization, in substitution of government-run programs, Giammona tried to avoid politics, but laid out a succinct argument for how his company can do a better job training students than traditional methods.
“There are a lot of government agencies doing things that can be privatized,” he said. “Why is a state agency still doing this when you have all these driving schools that are qualified to do it?”