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Signs of a good driving school -- good cars, good texts

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There are more than 138 million drivers in the United States, and most of them have never had any professional driving instruction. Yet, a formal driving education has proved to be one of the best methods of produing a safe driver.

Driving schools are especially useful if you don't want to impose upon a family member or strain a friendship with a request to learn how to drive. Free instruction is not always the best, however, and may be worth exactly what you pay for it.

There are many driving schools across the country that can help the novice handle a car safely.

On the other hand, there are a few that take their clients for a ride. The instructors waste the students' time. They take the customers out in the car and then stop for lunch, or they make phone calls during the client's lesson.

In some schools the instructors are not professionals, anyway, but inexperienced part-timers who are just looking for extra bucks.

Here's what to look for when searching for professional driving instruction:

Look for a school that will permit you to progress at your own rate. Some schools require a contract for a specific number of lessons. Many people will acquire the skills that make them safe enough to drive by themselves and to pass a test after about six hours of instruction. Others need more instruction.

Thus, don't buy a block of hours. If the quality of instruction diminishes, you may be stuck. Pay as you go and you're in the driver's seat.

The first thing the potential driver needs before even taking a lesson is a learning permit. Most driving schools will help with the required motor-vehicle written test. They even provide the material for study and collect the cost for the first lesson in advance.

After passing the written test, the student is ready to tackle his first lesson.

Most people begin the task of finding an instructor by looking in the Yellow Pages of the phone book. Before you make the final decision, however, it is wise to visit the school. Check for the following:

* Inspect the age and condition of the cars used. Many of the better schools use dual-control cars, an instructor brake, and a righthand mirror.

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