Driver’s Ed Goes Deluxe in the Philly Burbs
The summer I learned to drive, I spent a week in a beater car that smelled like chicken nuggets; my driver’s-ed instructor (the high-school baseball coach) fell asleep once we hit the interstate, snorting awake only after I’d driven an hour past the state line.
My experience wasn’t remarkable (indeed, most of my friends report similar rites of driving passage), but it does offer some context for my grousing over the shining new Subarus I’ve been seeing on the road with increasing regularity, all labeled “StreetSafe Driving Academy”—the instructors within all clean-cut, cute young guys.
So the cars are nicer and the teachers less sleepy, I think. Where’s the character-building in that?
Wayne’s Meg Kramer, a sparkly mom of two and the founder of five-year-old StreetSafe, makes no promises about character, but simply points to statistics showing that one of every three teens will have an accident within a year of getting a license. For graduates of Kramer’s program, it’s just 15 percent—less than half the national average.
“Clearly, the old driver’s ed isn’t working,” Kramer says. (She was horrified by her own simplistic instructor training at a conventional school: “Parents don’t know they’re being ripped off.”) Plus, she adds, cars now are heavier, speeds are faster, and distractions are multiplying (see: texting). “The old model of driver’s ed,” she declares, “is dead.”
The new model—which she offers at a smattering of high schools, and out of her own centers in Bryn Mawr, Blue Bell and, most recently, South Jersey—is quite the upgrade: There’s a corporate partnership with Subaru; field trips to the dealership for tire-changing lessons; virtual-reality goggles that simulate a real driving experience; and those clean-cut instructors, nearly all of whom are active-duty police officers. There are even Avon-esque house parties at which teens can try out the driving simulator as their folks get briefed on coping with a young driver.
There’s also the price tag, which ranges from $350 (classroom training only) to a cool $2,050 for the premier program. Sure, there’s some sticker shock, admits Villanova’s Leslie Salove, who’s put two daughters through StreetSafe: “But you can’t put a money value on safety.” Based on the number of parents who agree with Salove (upwards of 2,500 thus far, Kramer says), StreetSafe is on the road to super-success. The only question now is if it’ll pass the ultimate test in its new Haddonfield outpost: producing good Jersey drivers.