Budget cuts offer chance to open driving school

May 16, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

When the Carroll County public school system announced that budget cuts had forced it to discontinue driver education, bells went off for Kevin Utz and his wife, Bobbi.

The Utzes, and their friends, were concerned that local teen-agers wouldn't be able to find quality driver's education at an affordable price. But Mr. Utz, a law enforcement officer in Carroll County, and Ms. Utz, a paramedic with the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department, felt they had the knowledge and skills the kids needed.

Eight months and tons of Motor Vehicle Administration paperwork later, the Quality First Driving School was born, in December.

"So many schools just push them in, push them out and don't worry about the kids," Mr. Utz said. "As a police officer and a paramedic, we've seen too many accidents that we can't not worry about them."

Like Mr. Utz, most of the instructors are off-duty police officers, he said. The rest are state-certified teachers, many of whom taught driver education in public schools.

"We have a lot of curriculum writers," Mr. Utz said of the teachers. "We want this program to be the best."

All the teachers are Carroll County natives, he said.

"We know what's happening in Carroll County," Mr. Utz said. "We know what intersections to talk to the kids about, like being careful about turning on Gorsuch Road with a truck coming down the hill that might not be able to stop."

Students, in groups of 15 to 20, receive 30 hours of in-class instruction during a two-week period, Ms. Utz said. Classes are for three hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday mornings, she said. Classes are $130 for classroom and on-road instruction, she said.

But if work, homework or an extracurricular activity prevents students from attending a class, they can easily make it up during the next session, Ms. Utz said. One student, a Westminster High lacrosse player, took several months to complete her class sessions because they kept conflicting with sports practices and games, Ms. Utz said.

On-road driving time is six hours of individual attention with an instructor, Mr. Utz said. Most other schools insist that students need observation time, watching another pupil drive while they sit in the back seat, he said.

"We feel they get enough observation time watching their parents or friends drive," Mr. Utz said.

Pupils are also more willing to ask questions if they are alone with the instructor, Ms. Utz said.

"I've heard kids say, 'I could never drive like that girl. She did wonderfully,' " Ms. Utz said. "The kids are their own worst enemies."

Instruction includes giving students the theory behind driving laws, not just teaching them the mechanics of handling a car, Mr. Utz said.

"We want to tell them why there are guardrails in a certain place or double yellow lines," he said. "The lines are there because you can't see around a corner, for instance."

Students are also shown news articles about recent accidents and asked to consider how those could have been avoided or been less serious.

"If there's been a car accident where the driver was ejected, we ask why," Mr. Utz said. "It's because the person didn't have their seat belt on.

"When they leave here, we want them to have the combined understanding of motor vehicle laws with good skills."

But the instructors resist showing what Ms. Utz terms "horror flicks" simply to scare students out of driving recklessly or driving while intoxicated.

"If you're old enough to get your license, you should be able to read the newspapers," Ms. Utz said. "If you drink and drive, you take the chance of not only hurting yourself, but hurting others."

Classes are also available for those who want to brush up on driving skills, increase their confidence driving on busy roads or who need basic alcohol education, the Utzes said. Many of their adult students come through the Job Training Partnership office, they said.

The couple is also working to obtain certification to offer classes in court-ordered, remedial driving and emergency vehicle driving courses.

"It takes a different kind of driving," Mr. Utz said of paramedics and firefighters. "Their adrenalin is pumping while driving the apparatus with lights flashing and sirens wailing. It's a lot more stressful than a person who is calmly driving to the grocery store."

The owners of the fledgling school have already been told by "well-meaning" instructors of competing companies that they aren't going to make it.

"They said we aren't charging enough money and should be working on Sunday," Mr. Utz said.

Ms. Utz said, "I guess we could charge more. We'll probably start making money in a couple of years down the road.

"But our most important goal is to run a legitimate school that cares about the kids as if they were our own kids. We want the same thing we would provide for our own children."

Information: 840-9446.

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