Driving schools get defensive

Local operator accuses competitor of misleading statements

Terry Roberts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on April 3, 2009
Left, Janet Kent. Right, Frank Haynes.

The owner of a St. John's driving school wants one of his competitors - a franchise of Young Drivers of Canada - to yield after reading an advertisement that appeared in a free monthly newspaper that specializes in photography.

Frank Haynes of Learn Right Driver Training on Ricketts Road is accusing Janet Kent of Young Drivers of Canada of misleading the public with statements contained in the March edition of SNAP St. John's.

Controversy -

The owner of a St. John's driving school wants one of his competitors - a franchise of Young Drivers of Canada - to yield after reading an advertisement that appeared in a free monthly newspaper that specializes in photography.

Frank Haynes of Learn Right Driver Training on Ricketts Road is accusing Janet Kent of Young Drivers of Canada of misleading the public with statements contained in the March edition of SNAP St. John's.

Kent denies this. She says everything she wrote can be backed up with facts and statistics.

It's not quite road rage, but it's symbolic of the competitive nature of the driver training industry, where a half-dozen or so schools in the St. John's region are bumper to bumper in a bid to attract customers.

This latest fender bender got revved up after Haynes wrote a letter to Kent, and later contacted The Telegram to complain about the ad in SNAP.

"It's very misleading to the public," Haynes said.

In the ad, Kent refers to "trick questions" from driver examination officers, says research shows graduates of Young Drivers are "50 per cent more likely to pass their road test," and states that insurers such as Liberty Mutual and Hallmark offers discounts that are "much greater" than those who graduate from other programs.

Haynes said there are no trick questions during the driver exam, and described such a statement as a step backwards.

"You spend years trying to get rid of that myth, then a regional director of Young Drivers of Canada tells you it's happening," Haynes added.

As for the claim about pass rates, Haynes said this is "totally false," and disputes the declaration by Kent that Young Drivers graduates in this province get a larger discount from auto-insurance companies. He said the two companies referenced by Kent don't even do business in this province.

"If you're going to put something in a local magazine that only local people are going to read, why would you be quoting statistics from Vancouver or Toronto or wherever she's getting these statistics?" Haynes asked.

Haynes said the "only real difference in my course and the Young Drivers course is the price," with new drivers paying roughly $250 less to complete a course at Learn Right.

"She's trying to lead people to believe that if you take a Young Driver's course you are taking a better course than what's offered by anybody else. That is so not true," he said. "As for content, they are essentially the same."

When contacted for her side of the story, Kent said she was "shocked" by Haynes' allegation, and said her No. 1 priority is the education of students.

"I'm unsure of how he's thinking we would ever attempt to misjudge that or misrepresent that," Kent said.

Kent said driver examiners will challenge students with questions, no different than a teacher in a classroom, and her instructors do their best to prepare students for this.

She believes Haynes misunderstood her reference to pass rates, and explained "We are providing (students) with the tools to be able to increase their chances by 50 per cent."

She said this is backed up by third party research.

She said it's impossible to say whether the pass rate for Young Drivers is higher than Learn Right because these statistics are not made available by the motor registration division.

But she said it's not uncommon for students to enrol at Young Drivers "because they haven't been successful" at other schools.

As for receiving larger discounts on car insurance rates, Kent acknowledged she hadn't checked with local companies, but emphasized this was the case on a national level.

She defended the rates charged by Young Drivers, noting that "you get what you pay for," and refuted claims by Haynes that his program is essentially the same.

"When they say they're just like Young Drivers, they're not," she said. "All of our material is trademarked and we spend millions keeping our program up-to-date."

She said there is extensive and ongoing instructor training and recertification, above and beyond what the province requires.

"I don't know of any other driving school that could provide you with that information," she said.

Kent pointed out that her company, FOCUS Driver Training Inc., is ISO 9001 certified, and was recognized recently by Young Drivers for leading the country in growth in 2008, and was also named the new centre of the year for 2008.

Kent took over the business after her father passed away in July 2007. The company has centres in St. John's, Mount Pearl, Conception Bay North, Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor.

troberts@thetelegram.com