Learning to drive is like a rite of passage for Singaporeans turning 18, never mind if many of them will never be able to afford a car (story of my life).
There’s just something about signing up at a driving school that signals to you that the rest of your life is about to begin.
Except that… maybe you shouldn’t be signing up at a driving school in the first place. If mum and dad aren’t going to be paying for your driving lessons, don’t throw your money at the wrong instructors without doing your research.
Here’s what to know what trying to decide between a private or school instructor.
Price of driving lessons
For the majority of driving students, it will be cheaper to hire a private instructor than to go through the school system.
Not only are the hourly fees for driving school lessons significantly higher than those for private instructors (BBDC charges $68.48 per off-peak lesson and $77.04 during peak hours), signing up at a driving school will require you to pay all sorts of extra fees. For instance, BBDC charges a sign up fee of $96.30.
You are also forced by driving centres to pay for theory lessons and evaluation sessions before you’re allowed to sit the theory tests. These are frankly useless, but that’s just my opinion. BBDC charges $17.12 per theory lesson and $5.35 per evaluation session.
Private students, on the other hand, pay their instructors hourly fees and fees to use the circuit, plus a deposit of between $50 to $60. They don’t need to attend theory lessons and can read up on their own.
However, if you find that you lack self motivation and require structured guidance, you may prefer going for theory lessons at the driving centres. It’s no surprise as well that students at driving centres have a higher passing rate than those of private driving instructors.
As for private instructors, they charge $48 per 1.5hour lesson, and more for the circuit lessons. Some instructors will minimise the number of lessons you have to spend in the circuit by recreating the parking lesson with their own poles, so you end up paying less overall.
Finally, private students tend to have to go through fewer lessons than school students, simply because the structure of the school syllabus contains a set number of lessons and you can’t move faster or accelerate certain modules even if you’ve mastered the skills being taught.
Learning at Singapore’s driving centres
I was a product of the driving school system, and I think that my driving sucked even after I passed the test.
There are 3 main driving centres in Singapore, the Bukit Batok Driving Centre or BBDC (815 Bukit Batok West Avenue 5), ComfortDelGro Driving Centre (205 Ubi Avenue 4), and Singapore Safety Driving Centre (2 Woodlands Industrial Park E4).
Whether you choose to learn with a BBDC, Ubi Driving Centre or SSDC instructor, or a private driving instructor, you have to take your theory and practical tests at these centres.
Structure of lessons
At BBDC, I remember that our instructor of the day will check which lesson you’re supposed to be at, say crank course or parallel parking, and then dole out the standard lesson he gives to everyone who’s at that particular stage. When you pass one stage, you move on to the next one. If you fail a stage, you simply do it again during the next lesson—but with a different instructor each time, which can result in you blindly doing the same things over and over, and listening to the same spiel from different instructors.
It’s not hard to see how that doesn’t do much for your driving skills. The instructors have no idea what your weak points are, and are forced to follow the driving school’s syllabus.
On the other hand, a private instructor isn’t forced to stick to a set syllabus and is able to suss out your strengths and weaknesses. This usually results in your learning more, and faster.
If you suck at parking, you can spend more time on that, and even if it takes several lessons you’ll probably feel like you’re making progress, since the instructor will be building on what you learnt previously, rather than repeating the same old lesson from the beginning.
That said, statistics show that the passing rates at the driving centres for Class 3 and 3A licenses are between 50.5% and 54.3%, which are significantly higher than the 37.6% of private driving instructors, so do bear that in mind.
Most of the driving centres in Singapore are located in hopelessly ulu areas.
I remember my days at Bukit Batok Driving Centre, which is located in the Bukit Gombak area. Despite the fact that the centre was just 5 km from my home, it took me almost 1 hour to get there. I had to take a bus to the MRT station, take the MRT to Bukit Gombak and then take a shuttle bus from Bukit Gombak station to the driving centre. Urgh.
If you take 25 practical lessons + 4 theory lessons + 4 theory practice sessions / trial tests + one day of registration, that adds up to a lot of commuting to and fro. Check if you live close enough to benefit from the “send home service”, which enables the driving instructors to drop you off at home after the lesson.
Those who are using a private instructor can usually just get him to pick them up from home or the nearest MRT and drop them off after the lesson, which saves tons of time.
While you have only yourself to blame if you fail your driving test many times, for most people with normal eye-hand coordination levels, going through a private instructor is faster.
Driving centres have a very rigid syllabus which must be followed, and that often adds weeks or even months to the course.
For instance, in order to sit the Basic Theory test at SSDC, you’re forced to first attend four basic theory classes and successfully complete two trial tests. Only then are you allowed to book your basic theory test, which will be weeks away.
You might also be forced to go through some rather redundant lessons like the auto lesson for those getting a manual licence, and the driving simulator.
All of this can take even longer if you’ve got a busy schedule, since you’re probably not going to be free to attend lessons every day, and the peak hour slots tend to get snapped up fast. To make matters worse, each session is about 100 minutes, which is probably longer than you would take to study for the Basic Theory test itself. When it comes time to the Advanced Theory test, you have to go through the entire tedious process again.
With a private instructor, you just sign up for and pass your theory tests whenever you’re ready, and go for your practical lessons once you have your Provisional Driving Licence. So long as you abide by the rule that you pass your basic theory test before you get your PDL and are allowed to drive on the road, it’s all good.
Despite all of the above, hordes of students still choose to go through driving centres. It can be nice to have a “school” to go to and a predictable syllabus. But if you’re looking for value for money, that might not be the best option.
Do you think learning driving at school or through a private instructor is better? Share your thoughts in the comments!