July 30, 2009
Here in Colorado, they have started replacing some of the left turn lane lights with a slightly different setup. now instead of having 5 bulbs, they only have 4 in a single line. Instead of having a solid green for “you can turn when it is clear” they now have a yellow arrow that flashes.
I uncertain as to whether this was for economical or awareness issues (since flashing yellow says “caution” better than a solid green), but it has been amusing to see the effect.
After a testing period in a few cities (such as Pueblo), these lights have been migrating into the bigger cities, such as Springs, Denver, and Aurora. the funny thing is that they have been here for several months, but people still often come up and get really confused. No one seems to understand. There is one by our school, and I have several times followed the same person through this light and they will just sit there totally oblivious to what is going one. A slight “courtesy honk” does not seem to make a difference. The lights don’t even stay lit for close to a “watch out for the red” length of time. When it comes for the red, the yellow is significantly longer than the flashing.
What makes this amusing is that these lights been in Pueblo for over a year now. Most people picked up how they worked in about a week or two. Growing up in Pueblo and having parents who still live there, I can solidly attest that the average person in Pueblo is far below average most everywhere (Except perhaps the South. And a toss-up with the East. Far below average in Colorado, at least.).
June 30, 2009
I did a drive test for a student of a superpower a while back. The kid set a new record for my tests from there by only missing two points and no traffic law violations, as well as no dangerous actions! (21, 3, and 1 are failing) Missing 2 is amazing for anyone (5-10 is normal for this route), but the superpower students are generally in the range of 10-15 points, 2-4 laws, and occasionally 1 dangerous action (DAs are very rare). I had one once that was more like 22, 7, and 1 (they failed it 4 different times on the same test). (NOTE – I don’t pick on superpower students, or anyone else for that matter. the test is very objective. Way to easy and many times people who are dangerous drivers still pass, but still objective).
June 23, 2009
Being a driving instructor is an interesting career. Aside from the variety of humorous experiences (see the confessions of a driving instructor blog for some examples, though much there is serious), it is also humorous to see how the various driving schools compete with each other, sometimes even in very cutthroat ways, even including ones that compromise the best interests of their students. Here are a few interesting categories where many fit (NOTE – I am not attempting to mock any particular school, but create a few fictitious companies based upon some characteristics I have observed):
the small school living in the 60s – This is the local school that is very friendly, but tends to do things in ways that are a bit dated. most likely, they will have a slightly older car with cheesy decals and hold classes at a school, church, or similar location. They likely don’t have an actual office, but are working off of a “newfangled cellular phone” and bash “those online programs which won’t give you any insurance discounts or actually fulfill any state requirements” (which I find comical, since my school qualifies for a discount with every insurance company in the state as well as more companies nationwide than any other school.
the new desperate school – This is the guy that offers really low prices on lessons, free pickups anywhere in the city and has availability that is just shy of 24-7. He does not have classroom curriculum himself, but has a contract with an online program that is both overpriced and likely one of the ones that is a knock-off of one of the quality, groundbreaking programs like ours. This school is probably ran out of the basement of someone who was once a semi-successful instructor in another state and either wanted to start their own school, or had one that was lost in a divorce. Likely did not realize how much more serious the requirements were here than back home.
the school-based program – No high schools in Colorado (and hardly any nationwide) have their own programs anymore, but there are a few driving schools that work only based upon their relationships with certain schools and districts. They do have the convenience of being easily accessible, but they tend to really not be all that successful overall since they are really limited to the school year and the school’s facilities. The biggest problem they have is that their advertising is generally just in the school and they only have a few instructors balancing all classroom and driving lessons.
the over rated DE school – The only people in the USA who still use VHS tapes. Unfortunately, they can’t make anymore since the machine broke, so now in addition to charging 3-4 times what they should, they also require a deposit in case you decide to keep the tapes. They likely claim that they fulfill all of the requirements for getting a license, sometimes even to the point of denying that 6 hours of lessons are required for some students. That tactic consistently ends up shooting them in the foot since people have to go to other schools for lessons, which is only discovered when the student tries to get their license
the solid, long term school – These guys have been around for a while. They set up a system in the early 90s when private driving schools started and have not really adjusted their methods since then, although their material has stayed up to date. They likely have structured their classroom portion in a way that is a balance of complication and convenience (several full Saturdays, multiple offerings of shorter classes that can be completed in nearly any order, etc.). They have been around long enough that they offer classes in several smaller cities, probably through local schools. Several of these schools regularly trade instructors back and forth. Sometimes several smaller schools have combined throughout the years to create a bigger, better school.
the guys who can’t quite get it – This school has gone through several owners and incarnations. The name may have been changed as the owners change, sometimes even just a letter or two (doubling a consonant or changing a vowel) so that they are still recognized as the old school, but different enough to “not have the same problems as that other company.” The cars are still the same (though probably have different decals), some of the instructors are still the same, and although they may make it a while, it will probably fail again. Or at least get close until someone else buys it.
the “superpower” – These are the guys that EVERYONE is talking about. All the cool teenagers go there. It was started by a guy who used to be an unsuccessful professional surfer/snowboarder/motocross rider/race car driver who is from a “cool” state. This is the place that really hypes up what they do. The website is constantly updated with the best streaming videos of testimonials from students talking about how what they learned helped them stay out of a really bad wreck in really cool technical-sounding terms (which they made up). They drive brightly painted sports cars and Jeeps with awesome decals all over the place. Their office is located on a road course, which is where they bring in the parents to watch their kids on the skid pad. A portion of the required classroom time is spent in the car “observing other drivers” while on lessons which is ironic (and illegal), since all of the classroom is required to be completed before getting a permit. 6 hours of lessons is sold as being 12-18, even though most of that is spent goofing around with other students or texting in the back seat, making the driver nervous. The certificate includes “observations” and “road course/skid pad,” even though neither is required nor recognized by the state or insurance (btw, the kid has been observing mom and dad for 15 years; they aren’t going to get good habits just by watching another awkward teen mess up for a few hours). The goal of lessons is not really to learn how to drive, but to complete more on the checklist than the other students. They advertise the fact that they think they are better than everyone else – even the name of this place attests to that fact (as with what my wife says about salons – if you like your hair, steer clear of places that have words like “super,” “great,” “power,” “quality,” or “hot” in the title).
The instructors are a totally different story. They are really more salesmen than instructors, since the spend most of their time on the phone pestering people to buy their program (they don’t give prices, but only “consultations” during which they “asses the needs of you student,” and generally come up with outrageous prices, but since it is the most expensive, parents think it is “the best”). Their hygiene leaves some to be desired and they take a lot of breaks, smoking what you can only hope are cigarettes, in full view of the students. Somehow, 100% of the driving tests that they give are passes (even though the rate when their students go to another school to test is more like 60%, and those are just barely passes. The DMV has about a 50% rate, and that is because they have so many people who fail into the double-digits. Once someone fails 4x they are required to only test at the DMV. And to get lessons before they can get another permit.). All of the rich parents want to send their kids here. When shopping for classes, all parents ask other schools how they compare to the superpower. It doesn’t matter that it is all hype or ill-prepares they student for actual driving, you have to keep up with the neighbors that go to the “good” school district.
the guys that try too hard – These guys are likely a solid, long-term school that is a bit over-stretched. They started out small, but somehow developed a very good program that is either better or more accessible/affordable than the other guys. They have helped some of the other guys get started and have tried to get everyone to work together at some time or another. Driver’s ed isn’t viewed as a job, but a calling. If another school closes, they volunteer to take on their students for free. They set up endowments to help inner-city students. These guys try to change laws to improve driver safety, especially among teens. Failure is more common than success with marketing and creative options, but since they have developed a solid customer base, they are still in the game. Instructor quality and character is of utmost importance, but since the pay is low, they are always looking for new instructors; the only ones who have been around more than a year or two are usually close friends or family. The owner works more hours than is physically possible and therefore has a frequent-flier card for the ER. Schools and other entities (including government) approach this school to have their experts help them structure their programs/laws. They don’t always broadcast what all they have accomplished, even though they are a bit prideful about it and will bring it up at many opportunities. Even though they provide one of the best educations available, the biggest problem they have is that they are stretched so thin, both logistically and financially, that they often have problems taking care of their current students.
The sad part is that most schools want to do well, but they are so stuck on their way of doing it that they can’t seem to work together. There are more than enough students to max out all of the driving schools, but too many are focused more on $$ and beating the other guhys than helping drivers make it past their teens.