Driving Centre Versus Private Driving Instructor: Which Is Better?

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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 full of people born in 1994 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

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 will have to pay their instructors’ hourly fees and fees to use the circuit, plus an enrolment fee of about $50 to $60. They don’t have to attend any theory lessons unless they want to.

Typically, private instructors charge around $40 per non-circuit lesson and $60 per circuit lesson, assuming the lesson lasts about 100 minutes, which is the duration driving centres offer. Some private instructors have their ways to minimise the number of lessons you have to spend in the circuit, such as by recreating the parking lesson with their own poles, which means 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.

 

Skills

I was a product of the driving school system, and I have to admit that my driving skills sucked when I passed the test. As a driving school student, you’ll be studying under a different instructor each time.

Your 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 your 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 dole out the lessons according to the order indicated by 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.

 

Convenience

Most of the driving centres in Singapore are located in hopelessly ulu areas, which makes you really desperate to pass your driving test so you’ll never have to go through that crap again.

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 and drop them off after the lesson, which saves tons of time.

 

Time

While you have only yourself to blame if you fail your driving test 10 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. At this rate, by the time you pass your driving test, you’ll be old enough to get a taxi vocational licence too.

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, there’s no such nonsense. 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!

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • FC

    I don’t think you got the comparison in a comprehensive manner.

    Perhaps lacking in areas such as:
    1) Passing Rates
    2) “Rejected learners” by private instructors, school rarely or never
    3) Hidden costs
    4) Available services

    In addition, the ability to learn competently depends on:
    a) The Learner
    b) The Instructor
    c) Frequency (spacing) of lessons
    d) Setting Learning Objectives

    I am not saying that the schools are better or more value-for-money. I am advocating that things need to be clear & neutral. To help the mass, let them make their own judgement call by stating the pros & cons (neutrally). – “One size don’t fit all”.

    FC