1. When you are in your vehicle try to watch the drivers ed cars in traffic. Is the instructor talking to the students and pointing at things? I have found there is always something to talk about at a stop light. Also is the instructor talking on the phone? This isn't good. Does the instructor have a clipboard in their lap? This means the instructor is writing things down while the student is driving. This is unsafe as the instructors should have their eyes on the road just as much as the students. Is the instructor sitting far away from the dash? A rule of instructing is to sit close enough to the dash that you can easily grab the steering wheel if necessary. Sometimes sitting too far away makes the student feel nervous which is something nobody wants. Also, if you see a driver education car with no students and it looks like the instructor is driving - watch how they drive. Are they practicing what they preach? Or are they the hypocritical driver that complains about other drivers and yet drives unethically and unsafe?
2. Call each school and ask what is on the curriculum during behind-the-wheel lessons. Some instructors are very proud of their routes and will gladly tell you where they like to go. Watch for the instructors who take students on long drives. While there are things to learn from long drives, there are only 6 hours of instruction before they are set free to drive in a new car (with no passenger brake) and new instructors. Students should be exposed to as many driving environments as possible. And don't be afraid to ask if they drive on the freeway.
You can also ask them what is discussed during the drive. An experienced instructor should be able to tell you the topics covered during the drive. If an instructor stumbles a bit when answering this question - this could be a sign they are a direction-only-teacher. Basicaly most of their talking is telling the student where to go.
3. Ask them if they allow the parent to dictate where they drive to. Some instructors have set routes and will tell a parent basically it's their way or the highway. Good schools have no problem abiding by a parents wishes.
4. Ask about extra activities or homework. Keep in mind not all homework is the same. Simple questions out of the Driver's Manual are okay but don't really get the student to think and absord the content. The extra activities also need to be varied and unique. Many school require a student to change a tire and/or do maintainance checks. While this is important there are more activities a student can do to really learn new things. Attending a class on train safety taught buy a train specialist like Operation Lifesaver is one example.
5. When talking to other parents who've used the school - watch for phrases like..."He's a very nice guy", or "It was real easy", or "it was pretty good". After the student signs up, parent involvment is almost zero so they have no real idea of the quality of the education. Don't be afraid to ask specific questions regarding what was actually taught. If the parent isn't sure then that is a sign the driving school wasn't very good.
6. UPDATE...In my opinion, one of the best ways to help you decide on a school is to simply ask to sit in on a class or ask to be a passenger in the car. Many schools will have an open seat in the back of a class or car to observe. If the school says "no", then you say "no" to that school. At UltraSafe I encourage adults to ride along in the car whether or not they have a student in the class. I've had many parents tell me that they learned some new things while riding along.
Call UltraSafe at 208-863-4154 for additional information or visit ultrasafeadt.com