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Driving lesson fees set to soar

Published:Wednesday | February 8, 2023 | 2:09 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer
In this 2014 file photograph, an examinee negotiates a course at the Swallowfield depot in Kingston. The new Road Traffic Act imposes more stringent stipulations on driving instructors.
In this 2014 file photograph, an examinee negotiates a course at the Swallowfield depot in Kingston. The new Road Traffic Act imposes more stringent stipulations on driving instructors.

Driving lesson fees are expected to rise as instructors become compliant with more stringent stipulations under the newly enforced Road Traffic Act. Among the new directives is for certified instructors to provide classroom space to teach...

Driving lesson fees are expected to rise as instructors become compliant with more stringent stipulations under the newly enforced Road Traffic Act.

Among the new directives is for certified instructors to provide classroom space to teach prospective licence seekers.

Under the new law, no one is legally allowed to teach someone to drive in Jamaica unless they are a certified, registered, and licensed driving instructor under Section 168. Parents, relatives, or friends who have traditionally affixed the big ‘L’ to a vehicle and tutored students will be prohibited from doing so without the specified certification.

Breaches by unlicensed driving schools may attract fines of $100,000.

With office space rental in Mandeville ranging from $45,000 monthly, one operator said that utility and sanitation overheads would add $60,000-$70,000 to his monthly expenses. Modest office space in Kingston may cost in excess of $100,000 per month.

Robert George Morgan of Robert’s Automatic Driving School in Mandeville said industry stakeholders were told of the impending provisions in consultations organised by the Island Traffic Authority (ITA).

“That is the level they want to take all of us. It was discussed with us in Kingston and advised by the head of the Island Traffic Authority to have an office, and all that is required in an office space. Rental is the issue, and when I started to look some place, the cost was close to $50,000 per month, and I am not in a position to rent,” Morgan said in a Gleaner interview on Tuesday.

“I am going to have to pass on to my clients, so the fees will eventually go up. So even if I operate from home, water rate, electricity, and cost of furnishing will go up and will have to be passed on,” he said.

Morgan, who did not discount the value of the new requirements, acknowledged that the status quo on Jamaica’s roads was chaotic and lawless. His company is registered and he has the required insurance, Morgan said. He is also a certified driving instructor.

A manual from the ITA sets out the requirements for driving instructors under the act.

“I have decided that I was going to do things properly and set a standard. So I am not worried about the requirement. It’s a good thing and it’s also bad. You have to question some of the things you see on the road, whether people went to a proper driving school, especially the taxi men,” he told The Gleaner.

“... I have to be teaching more defensive driving because of what is on the road. So other than the costs which will impact many persons, you put them in a classroom setting and put on a board the things that you are teaching to reinforce it. I do training and teaching at the same time,” he explained.

Justice of the Peace Vladimir Wallace said that the child seat concern is only one aspect of the much-debated new traffic law. He argued that the driving instructor industry is now in limbo as effective February 1, 2023, all schools and instructors are required to be licensed to teach and to be included in a registry maintained by the ITA.

“The problem is that no such unit or department to manage this process exists. Simply put, every driving school and subsequent driving instructor were made illegal on February 1, 2023, as no such licence has been issued,” said Wallace in a letter to the editor published today.

Wallace argued that “an entire industry is now at a standstill and livelihoods are affected based on poor implementation”.

ITA director Kenute Hare could not be reached for comment.

Dominic Barrett is the operator of Swift Driving School Academy in Kingston. The National Heroes Park is his training ground.

“I don’t believe that being in a classroom setting will necessarily aid a person in better understanding what is required on the roads. Being in the car and doing everything yourself gives a greater understanding rather than just hearing things. The classroom will just draw out the process more,” he believes.

According to Barrett, it is most difficult to get persons to drive in a straight line.

He, too, warned that the newly mandated classroom teaching component will bump up instruction fees.

Prior to road practice, clients must pass a written examination. The road test involves driving in a straight line, reversing, parking, and parallel parking.

Barrett has a three-tier package: five lessons for a refresher, with 10 and 15 interactions, respectively, for the other two options.

Each class costs $3,000.

At Western Driving School in Savanna-la-Mar, the operator said he has closed shop since the act came into effect.

“I am aware of all that since 2018. The only thing I am waiting on is to be certified, because the last [examination] that I did at NCTVET, I have yet to get my results. ... I am not taking any chances to get charged by the police,” Bennett told The Gleaner.

He said that he has yet to receive a transcript since last November.

“I am not going to set up any business for anyone to come and inspect my place and I don’t have the certification. You have to have the certification to apply for the insurance coverage for the car. I am not going to risk being ticketed for not having the requirement. I prefer to sit it out, even if I have to dead fi hungry for a while,” Bennett said.

Oshane Lalor, operator of Fierce Driving School in Kingston, said that he was unaware of the classroom mandate.

Lalor said that a rate increase was inevitable.

“The clients are going to feel it most, because the charges will have to be facilitated some way, somehow. We are going to have to increase the cost of our packages to clients,” he said when contacted on Tuesday.

Lalor charges $24,000 for 10 sessions and $38,000 for 15 sessions. Clients need an average of 15 sessions, he said. He reported having a 60 per cent first-time success rate for learners.

He has mixed views about the reforms.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing at this time on one hand, but I do think it is necessary. There should have been more preparation or public education, although I was leaning to that. But the requirements kind of brought everything forward,” Lalor said.

“But the Road Code book is a pretty boring book. So people read bits and pieces of it. I think the classroom setup might impart more knowledge, but we have to get going.”

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com