This, he noted, has happened more than a few times.
Rolwes, who works full time as a high schoolteacher and coach at Jefferson High School, has been teaching driver’s education for 12 years. He decided to create his own company, Safe Driver Driver’s Education LLC, three years ago.
While he remains the only employee and owns one vehicle for the business, he, too, has seen growth in his company. Safe Driver primarily serves the west side of Cedar Rapids, but it has offered instruction for students from all area high schools including Benton Community and Vinton Shellsburg.
“I work with 120 to 130 students per year,” Rolwes said.
While the primary customer base consists of high school aged students — 14 to 17 — who are moving from their permit to license, they are not alone. Stacia Bissell of Right Way Driver’s Education in Cedar Rapids said 10 percent are people moving to the area from other countries and adults needing a refresher course.
In fact, in 2010 some 16,800 14-year-olds took to the roads in the state of Iowa after obtaining their learner’s permit, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. To get their license, of course, Iowa requires new drivers to complete 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of driving instruction, either behind the wheel or using a driving simulator.
These days, driver’s education is less often taught through the high schools and more commonly through private driver’s education companies, Rolwes and Bissel said.
“We thought this was going to be a mom-and-pop shop,” recalled Bissel, when she and her husband started Right Way four years ago.
“When we started in November of 2007, it was my husband, Barry, and myself, one location and one car. Now, we have 20 employees, four cars, and eight locations.”
Right Way Driver’s Education offers courses for students at high schools around the Corridor. It has 20 part-time employees — half of whom are classroom instructors, while the other half are offering behind-the-wheel instruction — and have four instruction vehicles on the road.
MY TIME IS YOUR TIME
Over the years, these driver’s education companies have learned that working with teenagers’ schedules is one of their biggest challenges.
“We set ourselves apart because we have students tell us the dates that work for them and we accommodate their schedules,” Bissell said. “So 80 percent of my job is scheduling and working with drivers and parents to make it all fit.”
Rolwes finds it challenging because he makes it a point to spend time in a car with each student.
“I teach every student and drive with every student,” he said.
“Most of the other schools have behind-the-wheel instructors who teach the driving portion and one or several teachers who do the instruction. I think consistency of instruction is lost when that happens.”
Fuel costs also have become another business variable, Rolwes said.
“I try to price my classes so that they are affordable and that I can turn a decent profit,” he said.
Rolwes said being a driver’s ed instructor isn’t about just riding around drinking a cup of coffee while the student drives.
“If the program is any good, the instructor has the students doing specific skills for each drive,” he said. “The classroom instruction needs to be hands-on and relevant as well.”
Instructors go through an annual certification process for the school with the DOT.
“Safe Driver Driver’s Education is considered a proprietary school that has to be bonded and insured. I carry a $50,000 bond, have liability insurance for the business and have a commercial insurance policy on the driver’s ed car,” Rolwes said.
“Each year I have to report to the DOT the number of students that I’ve worked with and which schools they are from.”
Another big decision? The very cars they drive.
Instructors base their choice on how comfortable the interior is, its safety features and the window visibility.
And looks, too.
“We use Hyundai Sonatas and Ford Fusions for more of a sporty look,” Bissell said.