Business

How's my Driving?

Debora Keyes wants to give local teens the tools they need to become confident, smart and safe drivers. She wants to do more than just hand over the keys.

“I’m doing this because these students have to share the road with you, me, and other families,” said Keyes, the new owner and lead instructor of How’s My Driving? School of Whidbey Island, located at 31780 Highway 20, Ste. 4 in Oak Harbor.

“The last thing I want to see is another car wrapped around a pole.”

How’s My Driving? School of Whidbey Island moved into its Highway 20 location in March and is currently registering students for its inaugural class beginning April 17.

Class sessions will begin every five weeks, which will make it the most frequent driver’s education class schedule on the island, according to Keyes. The school will serve Oak Harbor, Coupeville and South Whidbey students, offering afternoon, evening and weekend times, as well as adult classes and private drives.

Keyes said she hopes to serve students who would have otherwise been left on long waiting lists.

The school will also serve a student population Keyes said often gets ignored: adults who still have yet to get a license.

“Especially with the military there are many young people who never had a need to drive before, but now are wanting to,” she said.

The school will offer a grand-opening rate of $279 for the basic class that meets the state minimum requirements of 30 hours class time and four in the car. The basic class will regularly be $299. If paid by cash or check it’s reduced to $289. The standard course of 30 hours in class and six hours in the car will be $379. The advanced course for drivers needing a little more instruction will be $456 for 30 class hours and eight hours behind the wheel.

Each student receives a binder of materials that they get to keep after class is over. Keyes is working with local merchants to offer gas cards and other car-related gift certificates to students who earn top test scores.

The school’s information packet says, “Our goal is to teach not only the skills needed to learn how to drive, but the desire to be a safe and conscientious driver.”

Keyes has been a resident of Oak Harbor for 17 years and is an eight-year veteran with the Central Whidbey Fire District where she is a firefighter/EMT. She has also been a paraeducator for the Coupeville School District for the last two years.

She came to be a driving instructor after a friend approached her last year looking for candidates for Munro’s Driving Instruction, a school that — at the time — was expanding services on Whidbey.

To become an instructor she had to go through an extensive background and driving record check. She received 60 hours of classroom, instructor studying and car time. Her final was a 100-question test.

Keyes attended training with all the other Munro Driving instructors when the school came to the island a year ago, and she began teaching a few classes. Only, unfortunately for Keyes, the school was unable to expand as hoped and she was among those laid off.

After she was laid off, she realized she couldn’t quit and started researching opening her own school.

“I saw a huge need on this island for another driving school,” she said.

She found the America, How’s My Driving? School in Kent and owner Dave Parthow who sold her his Maple Valley location outright. Keyes bought everything: the books, study materials, desks, chairs, videos and rights to the name. Parthow will remain a 10 percent owner of the Oak Harbor school for its first year. If things go well with the Oak Harbor location, Keyes would like to start a satellite office in the Freeland area to serve more South Whidbey students.

Keyes hopes to bring some of her emergency response training and connections into the classroom. She plans to invite firefighters and emergency medics to come talk about accident scenes they come across, maybe even backboard a student or two to let them know what it feels like to be a crash victim.

Keyes wants to remind students that a driver’s license remains a privilege and not a right.

All the same, she continues to see the laws broken. Such as the intermediate license requirement that new drivers have no passengers in the car under the age of 20, except for immediate family, for the first six months.

“They pile in, music’s cranked and everyone’s chatting away,” she said. “How can they possibly focus on learning the rules of the road then?”

She keeps a collection of newspaper article clippings that talk about all the car crashes on the island.

“There’s been so many accidents on the island. The word safety seems to be something that’s just thrown around these days,” Keyes said. “Unless you apply it to situations that really stick with them, and not just read it to them from a book, it’s obvious that some people just aren’t going to learn.”

Mechanics are other people Keyes would like to see talk to her students.

“So many of them know nothing about cars besides the fact they hop in, turn the key and go.”

“I love working with the public. That’s why I work as a firefighter and that’s why I became an instructor,” Keyes said. “This is another extension for me to help people, and teenagers are great to work with — they make me laugh so hard some times.”

How’s My Driving? School of Whidbey Island

31780 Highway 20, Ste. 4, Oak Harbor

Phone: 675-6234

Website: www.howsmydrivingschool.com

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