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Concerns about driver training in Ontario

By: Carlos Tomas

Date: Monday, 11. February 2008

October 24, 2007


Carlos Tomas
Shifters Driving School.
Toronto, ON M6N 1G1


Mr. Keith Madill
Training & Development and Documentation

Mr. Madill,

Thank you for your quick response to my concerns and for sending me the Approved Course Provider Manual. I also appreciate your invitation to provide a BDE Program.

Having read both your bulletin of Sept 7, 2007 announcing H.T.A. Regulation 473/07, and the new Approval Course Manual I see challenges in developing new policies to solve the problems in our industry. From my years of instructing students and teachers alike I see that the following issues in driver training and licensing have yet to be addressed:

1. BDE Approval: A Need For A Broader Accreditation System.

Since manual shift skills are not a requirement to obtain an Ontario driver's license, beginner drivers almost unanimously choose the easier alternative - to train and test in automatics. This high demand for training in automatic vehicles places a large customer base within a relatively short radius of most classrooms.

By contrast, the demand for manual shift training, especially in the smaller communities is so small that most schools do not offer it. The few wishing to learn this skill, either travel to a major centre, or forgo the training altogether.'s client base spans Toronto's city limits and outwards in all directions about a 50 km radius. I cater largely to already-licensed drivers learning to operate manual transmissions or to upgrade their driving skills. I also prepare G1 drivers who've taken a course elsewhere on automatic that need to learn to shift so as to be able to practice on the family manual vehicle.

I continually receive requests for an Approved BDE Program. However, under the current approval guidelines it is not financially feasible to run a manual shift driving classroom for such a spread-out audience. Even though many are willing to commute long distances for private one-on-one arranging common classroom times is much more difficult. A 3-hour classroom session could easily turn out to be a 5 � 6 hour investment on their part.

If on the other hand the Ministry's Approval parameters were to include on-line, home-study type BDE Programs it would go a long way to help service providers better respond to this steadily growing demand that currently goes unfulfilled by our industry. A performance-based training program with set measurements in place would yield far superior results than what is currently offered. The idea that top-down style, derriere-to-the-chair for 25 hours is the most effective way to impart information is long-gone. Most teens today perceive that as penance.

Today's youth need a hands-on approach that enables them to search and fulfill their natural curiosity. For training/education to take on substantial meaning it needs to be fun, relevant, and current. For instance, we can give them a series of questions on a topic which they have to research in several ways and then submit written conclusions. If the results are satisfactory they would then be issued their next topic which could include taking surveys. While having fun they may provide administrators with free valuable data. They may, in the long run, end up spending many more hours than the minimum 25, and learning a lot more!

2. Recognition Of Advanced Training.

There are also many well-respected advanced training facilities that specialize in skid control, winter driving, high-performance skills, and defensive driving. If these schools were to receive some form of accreditation more drivers would be encouraged to upgrade their skills to higher levels.

Contrary to popular belief, these schools do not promote reckless driving. Quite the opposite is true. Drivers taking these courses tend to agree that these experiences are both eye-opening and humbling. They often remark that these courses should become mandatory, as in Scandinavian countries.

Graduates enhance their level of confidence and develop a new respect for their vehicles and their limits, as well as for the road. There is a time and place for everything and public roadways are not the place to test one's vehicle limits.

Let's encourage new drivers to keep on learning. Learning shouldn't stop with a G2 or a G license. Some form of accreditation system for upgrades should be implemented at least on an experimental basis.

3. Unqualified Drivers Operating Manual Transmissions Are Hazardous.

Although most new drivers train to minimum standards many eventually end up driving manual transmissions. The few that recognize this huge skill gap enroll voluntarily in professional training. As for the rest, they either adopt the poor driving habits of their well-meaning friends or loved ones, or they venture onto the road alone, unaware of what risks to expect.

Our insurance industry does not track transmission types in their crash statistics. But common sense tells us that it's dangerous to have unskilled drivers on our roads. Otherwise, why would the majority of jurisdictions worldwide peg this difference as worthy of either difference in class of license or a restriction?

Throughout my career I have encountered many drivers with the pre-conceived notion that transitioning to a shift takes no more than an hour. (After all, they're either already licensed, have watched it being done, read up on the internet, or think of themselves as fast learners.) This is simply not true as the attentional demands for driving manual transmissions are four times greater than that required for automatics.

Trained professionally, most licensed drivers take somewhere between 6 to 8 hours of practice to become sufficiently competent in manual shift driving. Most realize early on that shifting manually requires much more responsibility and co-ordination. Even when given carefully broken-down, step-by-step instructions for each new task I have witnessed countless G-license drivers, normally-compliant to the rules of the road, become entirely oblivious to their surroundings. Many fail to notice stops, speed limit and other road signs as well other road users and other aspects of their environment.

And those who come to after repeated attempts to learn this task from friends, without the safety nets of dual-control pedals, structured lesson plans, or insufficient task success before progressing to the next tell us a quite a different story. After spending countless hours of frustration, embarrassment, tying up traffic or experiencing near-misses, they realize that the magnitude of distraction involved in learning manual can be overwhelming and definitely unsafe. Very often there is little accomplishment to show for all this.

It's hard to imagine how a novice after spending only one hour with a friend in a parking lot drives off a dealership lot, or picks up a rental in Paris,. It's even more gut-wrenching to know that many of these unqualified drivers, some of them parents or nannies, end up driving children around while on the phone.

Task overload effects are more readily observable with lesser-experienced, newly-licensed drivers with their still-fragile skills. New drivers are typically weak at multitasking even in automatics, and with the simplest of procedures such as operating windshield wipers. More often than not we find that drivers, both new and veterans who come to, lack the adequate skill base to enable them to integrate the additional attention burdens of driving a manual vehicle.

G2-drivers in particular pose the highest risk. Many are accustomed to having decisions made for them. Almost without exception they have to go back to basics. We have to teach them basic vehicle control, how to read the mirrors and other information-gathering skills, judgment and making decisions, as well as clarification of the rules of the road. It is ironic that drivers go to an "unapproved" school to learn what they should have been taught at an "approved" school.

How did these drivers make it through the licensing hoop?

Unaware of the additional responsibilities many purchase, as their first vehicle, manual stick-shifts that may be rated well above their control ability. Some compound this problem with modifications that add even more power.

Uninformed and untrained they overestimate their own abilities and capabilities and have complete freedom to display the worst of judgment. Sadly enough, parents show just as poor judgment by acquiring these toys for their children with little regard for what's at stake for all concerned. It is odd that insurance companies willingly accept the risks posed by these unqualified drivers without question, at discounted rates, but on the other hand deny coverage to car rental agencies wishing to rent out manual vehicles.

4. New License Restrictions Are Needed.

I do not subscribe to any set amount of required number of training hours for drivers converting from automatic to manual. However, I am of the opinion that anyone taking a test on an automatic transmission should carry a license restriction limiting them to automatic vehicles. This restriction would be lifted upon demonstrating satisfactory skill to operate a manual vehicle in normal traffic conditions, without becoming distracted in the process. Alternatively, a driver tested on a manual vehicle would carry a manual transmission endorsement.

Currently drivers with disabilities requiring changes from right-foot to left-foot gas pedals are considered enough of a risk that they must re-qualify. In the years that I taught at the Bloorview Medical Centre rarely did an applicant making such an adjustment need more than one to two hour's practice to prepare for their test.

By contrast, the amount of training required to adapt to a manual transmission is more complex. Developing adequate clutch control takes time. Knowledge of the various gears and their speed and load ranges comes through exposure to various conditions as well as traffic situations. Confidence to launch and control the vehicle at dead-slow speeds on a steep hill takes much repetition before reaching the confidence to execute a left turn at a busy major intersection.

It is puzzling that no qualifying test exists to measure road readiness except for the tiny minority of applicants that voluntarily accept the challenge and apply for their license on a manual vehicle. Many of our clients remark that learning to drive a manual is like learning all over again and are commonly stunned to learn that there is no test required to upgrade their license.

A review of this disparity is long overdue.

5. Changing Our Licensing System Addresses Other Issues As Well.

Our global economy is now regularly relocating Ontarians to countries where manual vehicles are predominant. Many run into difficulties with local authorities while trying to take advantage of the reciprocal license exchanges. They are refused on-par status unless they provide hard proof of competency in driving manual transmissions. Or, they re-take a local on-road exam on a manual vehicle to be able to drive the same type of vehicle that they drove at home.

To minimize complications for the individuals that trained at I provide written confirmation of their manual skills on a regular basis.

Employers need valid assurance that potential employees can drive manual vehicles, either the company's, or their clients'. For example, hotel and car dealership valets are required as part of their job to drive customers' vehicles, posing obvious employer liability risks. As a loss-prevention measure many organizations request our confirmation by way of evaluation and written report.

To avoid costly transmission repairs to their training vehicles trucking schools such as Humber College demand manual-shift skill confirmation before their course applicants are entrusted to use their trucks. I also certify these applicants.

In short I have become a signing authority, not officially, but definitely in principle.

This licensing change also represents a potential hefty revenue base for the Province that would meet with minimal opposition. This change would be regarded by most constituents of Ontario as common sense and would receive overwhelming support. Many of our clients, who mostly fall into the age group of 25 - 50 years of age, voice this recommendation regularly. Newcomers to Ontario find it odd that there is no distinction made between these levels of skill.

Also, I believe that a license restriction would raise the Ministry's credibility. If the general public attitude towards driving is to change then the Ministry must demonstrate its full commitment, not just through changes in enforcement but right across the board, in training and testing.

6. Instructor/Examiner Qualifications Well Overdue For Review.

Introducing the "automatic" restriction would also mean a complete overhaul in how driver education is delivered in this province. Driving instructor and examiner qualifications need to be completely re-evaluated. Currently, without ever having driven a manual vehicle, both instructors and examiners are "automatically" qualified to respectively teach and test manual driving.

Although I don't know of any instructors who have taught manual driving without being at least somewhat familiar with the task I have come across examiners that have never driven a manual transmission at all. I have seen numerous wrongfully scored tests resulting from examiners not understanding the correct procedures for driving manual shift vehicles.

This absence of transmission distinction in licensing can also create bizarre scenarios on our streets. Blocking my path, after stalling her engine several times, a G1 driver asked me to move her vehicle out of the way of traffic. Her accompanying licensed driver had never driven a manual vehicle before. How responsible is that?

Having taught on both automatics and manuals I can testify that the skill sets for each type of instruction are not alike. Manual shift students spend more time in early sessions on basic control skills so lesson sequences are different. Teacher training and qualifications must reflect these differences in skill development.

Over the years I have worked alongside many instructors. Within the field of Manual Shift Training I have encountered countless contradictions in content. Many "so called" professionals have never taken a driving lesson other than what was offered through the instructor's course, in an automatic only.

But automatic instructors and examiners need to raise their standards too. Together as a team they need to build solid skill foundations in the drivers they train so that they can drive any type of vehicle. This skill base must be concrete enough to support the more complex skills of driving a manual vehicle.

As professionals their knowledge and skill sets must be broad enough to encompass all types of G-class vehicles. Instructors and examiners alike can answer questions about traction and winter driving conditions concerning any type of transmission, from the viewpoint experience rather than just mere concept. A broader awareness of the complexities of driving will add a new perspective as to just how important their job really is.

Since the days of my own training I have seen the quality of driving instruction in this province suffer major setbacks. Many of today's instructors-in-training receive information that was considered outdated back in the days of Mr. Gordon O'Hearn. Or, they receive and pass on irrelevant or outright wrong information.

Given the opportunity, I would prefer training my own staff from scratch than to first have to "un-teach" these graduates that approach us for employment.

But perhaps the most problematic part of our industry is the number of licensed instructors, even head trainers, who drive with beginner-driver observation traits, while they wholeheartedly believe that they teach defensive driving.

I've observed some of these "supposed professionals" that don't look ahead, or check their mirrors and have little or no understanding of vehicle dynamics, the mechanics of turning, or how to balance a curve. I am not referring to advanced driving - just plain basics.

How can one teach what one doesn't know? How can such an individual command respect from and give inspiration to their pupils?

7. A New Model For Instructor/ Examiner Training Is Needed.

I see instructor and examiner training as happening in two phases.

Phase I is a high-level Instructor/Examiner Intensive Driving Course which touches upon all aspects of driving. This would include several modules such as Highway Traffic Act, Defensive Driving, Operating Manual Transmissions, Vehicle Dynamics, Skid Control, and Driving on a Racetrack. Pass criteria must be performance based rather than on minimum hours fulfillment.

At this point instructors and examiners share the same vision.

Graduates must also pass each segment rather than the current norm of just filling in time. The bar needs to be raised far above G2 exit standards. We are training professionals that must command respect for the industry. Parents are reluctant to hire a "professional" who in their eyes has no more skill or knowledge than they do. (We willingly pay respected tradesmen good money to lay ceramic tiles because we recognize the finished difference from the do-it-yourself job.)

Upon successful completion of the Instructor's Intensive Driving Course the applicant then qualifies to take the Teacher Preparation Phase of the Instructor's Program. This portion of the program must include a full analysis of how driving decisions are made and recognition of the root of learners' driving errors as related to visual skills, as well as how to correct these problems.

Graduates from such a program would then begin work under supervision for a pre-determined period, or number of lessons, students, or passes as an apprentice before qualifying to operate their own approved school. Their progress would be monitored by the Ministry, with data compiled from tests taken by each their students. Observable patterns would be used to determine readiness to graduate, or in some cases recommendations for further training and reinforcement where deemed necessary.

To keep both instructors and examiners consistently on the same page applicants for the position of examiner would require a certain amount of experience as trainers and qualifying performance. (Olympic figure skating judges are selected from former Olympic coaches.)

8. Raise The Bar On The New Proposals.

Having reviewed the new proposals I am encouraged by your optimism in moving forward with changes to improve our system. But with all due respect, I feel that the point has been missed altogether and that the overall impact of your plan will be marginal at best.

I agree in principle that an instructors' driving should set an example. But to use the demerit point system exclusively as a measure of good driving is overly simplistic. Noted experts like Dr. Gerald Wilde have been unable to draw any meaningful correlation between the number of demerit points and the probability of collision for drivers in general.

Thus, it's a real stretch of imagination to extend this hypothetical relationship to one's teaching abilities. I welcome any scientific proof linking instructor demerit points and the quality of drivers trained by such individuals. I have never been personally approached or interviewed by anyone conducting such a survey or inquest nor do I know of any instructor who has either. I have difficulty believing that any funding would ever be allocated towards this type of study.

Yet the very central core of the upcoming changes seems to rest on the assumption that Ontario's driving ills are directly related to driving instructors' over-accumulation of demerit points. But if on the other hand these changes are meant to take aim at bad apples in our industry is it really necessary to draft pages of legislation that don't really address the problems?

These upcoming changes will almost certainly make headlines, potentially generate brief political kudos. But as long as we continue to "whitewash" the real issues the situation can only worsen.

The Approval system being proposed adopts the identical 30-year-old template formerly used by both the OSL and the DSAO. Merely re-labeling the package offers little assurance to any of the stakeholders that the overall value of the training will improve. Even if the curriculum is standardized and restructured by changing the number of required hours in each phase we still need the experts to deliver it and to test the results.

The Ministry's new role of Registrar can easily be misinterpreted as a ploy for yet another cash grab - same old game, more cash, into a different pocket. And as for the OSL's role in monitoring schools for compliance one must ask - if their methodology hasn't improved our industry in the past why would anyone expect changes in the future?

The claim that "McGuinty Government Raises the Bar For Driver Training" might better read "McGuinty Government Raises The Bureaucracy for Driving Schools and Instructors".

Encumbrances of government regulation seldom improve service delivery. It simply becomes more awkward for business owners to operate profitably. Costs rise with little gain for the consumer. Conversely, when standards are reset the market determines who stays. High standards draw the cream of the crop. Low standards attract the dregs.

Favouring a punitive approach over revising the educational model may raise instructor turnover and stimulate business growth for institutions that continually churn out archaic-standard instructors on a large-scale. But, how does this serve the public?

Alone the proposals that are visible so far will hardly make a dent in the problem. If we wish to truly elevate our industry to new heights we need to examine the whole picture, top to bottom. Instead of just one millimeter why not clearly raise the bar, a full meter or two?

9. Responsibility: The Clear Message From The Start.

For instance, much lip service is paid to the old adage that "Driving is a privilege and not a right". But every aspect of licensing suggests the opposite, right from the word go. Many who apply for a G1 license do not see the test as something to be taken seriously. On the qualifying written/computer quiz one can expect the same question to crop up several times � up to five times I am told.

Why do a test at all?

I frequently encounter G1, G2, and G license holders who have never laid eyes on a copy of the driver's handbook, never mind having read one - no matter how "updated" the book is. Sometimes it is a hard sell to convince drivers of any level of the merits of actually owning and reading the book. The general attitude is: if I can get by without it, why bother?

If the perceived value of a license is placed too low it only fosters complacency in drivers � enough to become careless and eventually lose their license or a lot more. Here lies the root of poor driving attitudes.

Do drivers who don't know the rules of the road really belong out there?

If there are a hundred and some odd questions to choose from why not ask them all, or at least most of them? Show the public that a driving license is something to be earned through study and self-application, not simply another handout. Driving is an adult activity and it requires maturity. Reset the bar so that drivers are motivated to become skilled and knowledgeable and they will rise to the occasion, with a very different attitude.

Road tests also need higher and more consistent pass criteria where basic skills are concerned. Just how hard can an applicant jam on the brakes at each stop sign and still be granted a license? (Provided that they land on the white line)

The idea that with practice their driving will eventually smoothen out is far fetched. I frequently train drivers with years and kilometers under their belt and yet their braking and steering are just as choppy as always.

These drivers are prime candidates for spinouts that the rest of us must watch for and be prepared to accommodate. How can we continually kid ourselves that they will improve on their own by practicing wrong techniques?

Success comes by study and practice, as with musicians or competitive athletes.

10. Time To Act.

Over the years many positive strides have been made with graduated licensing, and license re-classification for operating various sizes and classes of vehicles. It is evident that the Ministry is committed to continually improving our system.

Right now what our instructors need most is new training � well-deserved top notch training - in return for their dedication to a cause which for the most part goes unnoticed by society. First-class education with stringent pass criteria will sift out the ones who don't belong in the industry. I am very curious about the new "leading edge practices and training techniques that will also focus on eliminating reckless driving and speeding"

We can compare crash-injury data and statistics with other parts of North America and the world. When we look below us and see the large number of high-carnage nations we can certainly pat ourselves on the back about our own report card rankings. But if we compare ourselves to countries like Sweden where the traffic mortality rate in the 18 to 21 year old age group is 25% of ours then we know it's time we look up instead.

Canada is world renown for its leadership role in setting the highest standards in the fields of mining engineering, dentistry, scuba diving, and many others. We are all proud when we succeed in training our hockey juniors to consistently attain gold. Does our youth deserve any less when it comes to driving?

They are our future. They rely on us to show them the way through training.

I strongly urge the Ministry to revamp our driver education system to address the current needs and concerns that presently challenge our driver education and testing system.

Only then can we make the claim that "the beginner driver education program will assure students and all motorists that driving schools and instructors meet the highest standards possible."


Carlos Tomas

(416) 921-7845

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All Comments (5)

Showing 1 - 5 comments

robert larsen,

I think that the system in use now is very ineffective. The "Young drivers" system is that you can only work with young drivers if you take their course, They will give you a guarenteed job if you follow their policyies and qualifications. Now, they will pay you so much per hour to do the in car training, (which barely covers the costs of the vehicle upkeep), so the instructors, eliminate any taskings that may cost them extra, IE. No dirt road driving, as it may cause windshield damage, and rock chips., parking lot driving, as it causes a good deal of dead steering and wear and tear on the tires and front end. This and many other options are used to eliminate loss of vehicle damage. This is a great problem, as the student does not get a true feel of different senerios. Some things are being taught in Young Drivers, (as told by students), ie. driving in the center lane of the 400 series of highways, is the safe lane to be in. Defensive Driving #1 rule is to keep right except to pass. That is not the only problem that I have encountered.


Carlos Tomas ...

Your comments/insight is quite valid. I agree with much of what you said.

Unfortunately, with diving instruction being outsourced to so many private interests, there is much room for wrong doing that goes unchecked, no matter how high standards are set for instructors.

Some schools like Shifters, Young Drivers and select others are quite good but most are bad to much worse.

There is no control, for the most part, regarding how instructors handle themselves and their business after obtaining their licenses.

I am aware of how many schools lose their licenses in greater Toronto ... but this does not seem to lessen sub-par instructor behaviour on the streets of Toronto and at drive test centers. I will not get into it here but I have heard many very disconcerting stories from former students of such schools ... enough to make me very concerned.

Unfortunately, in the end, it is left up to instructors to run a tight ship, play by the rules and simply do their job.

I know that a great many instructors posses the knowledge and ability to do a much better job than they do, but it pays (dollars and cents) for them to not instruct to the best of their abilities, to keep them for as long as possible then barely get them through or even pay their way through Drive Test.

It is a money game for most and for the few who do things right, we have to work very hard to make a decent living.

I feel the best system for driving instruction would be to have a wholly government run system with set standards across the board and instructors making a yearly wage commensurate to their professional ability.

We are teachers teaching a life skill that is actually more significant than much of the subject matter taught in schools. Why should our profession be handled any different? Quality and consistency is needed and the current system cannot deliver that

You can train instructors until you are blue in the face. You can raise the bar etc. But, when private instructors are out working on their own, with no method in place to ensure acceptable standards of performance or accountability ... it is all for not.

The bottom line (in my opinion) is that all efforts to improve the existing system will unfortunately end up being expensive, inefficient and and in the end ineffective.


Go and see the new PC simulator for manual (double clutching) and automatic transmission Simulator that can resolve all above problems.
It is made by Ottawa based
I believe this week will be the launching this new and unexpensive tool.

Samantha Fuller,

Help! Could anyone please tell me if my Gov. approved U.K. full driving instructors qualification is in any way partially accreditable to obtaining the necessary MTO QUALIFICATON to be a driving instructor in Toronto? I am enjoying a very successful professional career in instructing drivers in the UK. I hold DSA ADI, THE ONLY officially recognised qualification to instruct drivers in the obtaining of a full U.K.driving licence.

My husband is a Canadian citizen and we are returning to live in Toronto. What is my best course of action to translate my career! I seem to be getting all sorts of conflicting advice!

Thankyou, in anticipation of any directive.

Samantha Fuller, U.K. driving instructor!


I may have missed it...I see no referrence in here with regard to the blatent corruption within the driving instructor industry & in the Driver examination offices. It is quite clear how the process works...myself being a victim at the examiners office at Morningside Ave. some months ago...when they realized I knew what was occuring they gave me my license immediately so as not to draw public atention to the issue...
Examination office: Fail on written tests...$10.00 to rewrite
Fail Road Test $75.00 to rewrite.
Here was my experience...I took driving instructor Program, went for written test. I was marked as 11 wrong but then check marks replaced many circles...I asked how can this be? The person behind the counter said "oh you only got 4 wrong" I left without further adue & returned the following week to rewrite the test...this time only getting one wrong & without studying? So I asked...may I see the original test? I was told it was already shredded...My question to them next was "How do you mark someone with 11 wrong & then tell them there was only 4 wrong when you deal with this same test each day? You must know the answers by memory? He shrugged...When I went for the G2 road test the examiner had atleast 50 areas marked wrong...keep in mind "I have been driving 13 years & drove school bus with a class B license" I would think if my driving was that bad that he should have taken me off the road & returned to the center...but we finished the whole test, then he failed me...said I had to return & pay another $75.00 lol. It became clear what was really going on. I filed a disbute...I went out 7 days later to be retested rather than the 10 days required & passed...I did actually make 2 mistakes on the was done purposefully to see if I would be passed & I was! Does this not cause concern for Ontarians in general? Drivers & pedestrians alike are at risk.
Now for another enlightening & eyeopening reality...There are examiners & instructors using paid kickbacks to have their students pass the test. Heres how it goes...they make the arrangement & when the instructor submitts the papers for the test they go into a slot labeled with the examiners name...all prearranged clever but not clever enough! Some of us do notice the corruption & lower standards & lack of ethics inwhich this city has deterriorated to in the past 20 years...Now Intructors, seem to be unconcerned with the students ability to drive...the student once learning to steer is then taken to the road test area & is taught to do the road test in order to pass...the cost for this can be anywhere between $200.00 & $1000.00 dollars. ARE YOUR EYES STILL CLOSED? This is pure & simple corruption by all licensing paties involved including the MInistry of Transportation, Ontario Government & Especially DRIVE TEST who bought the rights to examine...

Thanks for the ear & the time...lets see what becomes of this as I for one do plan to follow this up further & expose this for what it is!


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