Driving School Safety

CLEVELAND — Faulty brakes. Inadequate instruction. Crowded classrooms. These are some of the violations state inspectors found at local schools used to teach your teenager how to drive, a Channel 3 News investigation found.

The state says no violation can be too small when it comes to protecting a child learning how to drive.

Just ask Susan Sigman, of Streetsboro. Her 16-year-old daughter was driving 55 m.p.h. in a school vehicle when its brakes failed on a busy road.

Ramona Robinson

“I assumed the driver training schools were regulated and very safe, especially when we are going through the schools and paying hundreds of dollars,” Sigman said. “I never got a reasonable explanation as to how this could happen.”

The Ohio Department of Public Safety has issued 45 violations to local driving schools since 2006. The state conducts inspections of teen driving schools every other year — looking into everything from records to instruction manuals to building conditions — and it also checks their vehicles every year.

Ken Stout, who operates a driving school in Cuyahoga Falls, says schools that can’t meet minimum standards put students in danger.

“It’s wrong,” said Stout, owner of DriveTeam Inc. “I would hope that folks in our business would look at every car that goes on the road and understand that’s your son or daughter that’s in that car.”

The state requires eight hours of road training, but one student attending J.N.O. Drivers Enterprises simply had to drive around downtown Sandusky to get her diploma.

The state yanked the school’s license in March.

Parents could try asking if a school’s been cited. But three schools Channel 3 News visited undercover denied having violations.

At National Drivers Training in Solon, an employee said: “Oh no. We’ve never failed inspection. They wouldn’t be used.”

But state records show inspectors failed one vehicle at the school for a frozen brake pedal. Owner Bernard Ralls said the violations are “just words on paper” and that he fixed the brake pedal right away.

“It means to me I want to know what the problem is and let’s get it squared away,” Ralls said. “It doesn’t mean I failed an inspection.”

Ralls also owns Town and Country Driving School, where an employee also denied the school had any vehicle violations.

The state found three Town and Country school vehicles in need of repair. “That’s three cars out of 32,” Ralls said. “That means the rest of them they couldn’t find anything wrong.”

At 1st Choice Driving School in Cleveland Heights, an inspector ordered one car off the road. The school’s co-owner said it wasn’t a big deal and that it was immediately fixed.

Kim Myers, of Richfield wishes she had checked with the Better Business Bureau before enrolling her daughter at Heights Driving School II in Fairlawn.

“Finding out they had a rating of ‘F’ disturbed me,” Myers said. She did not know the state suspended the school’s Ravenna license for a week for not having enough table space, textbooks or in-class instruction.

“Who are they putting in the car with my daughter?” Myers said. “Now I’m worried.”

Heights Driving School II owner Charisse Pflueger said the state violation happened under the previous owner, who “instead of spending so much money to fight it, we just went down and took the punishment.”

Pflueger also said she’s tried to work with the Better Business Bureau to resolve complaints, but parents don’t want to hear that the school’s contract says it has six months to finish training the students.

Parents are urged to question driving schools about violations, look at cars and sit in on a class.

AAA also said parents should find out whether the school uses a fixed driving route because that helps teachers focus on instruction and helps prevent abuses, such as teachers running errands.

In the view of state driving exam supervisor, violations should not be taken lightly. “They should not get a violation,” said Mary Kilbane, supervisor of the state Highway Patrol driver testing facility in Mayfield Heights.

“Their vehicles should be in excellent working condition.”

© 2009 WKYC-TV