Green Drivers in Green Cars

Does the vehicle you take driver's education in make a difference? California teen Haley Jacoby is among many who think so. She recently completed her driver's training at Drivers Ed Direct, a Los Angeles driving school that uses hybrid vehicles exclusively. Not only was Jacoby positively giddy about learning how to drive, she was also excited about the vehicle she trained in as well.

"I absolutely love the Escape Hybrid," Jacoby said. "Not only is it a great car to drive and be in, the fact that it's a hybrid just makes me smile."

The popularity of hybrid vehicles in southern California is one of the keys to Drivers Ed Direct's success since it launched in June 2005, said Jimmy Leach, the company's president. By training in hybrids, Drivers Ed Direct students complete thousands of miles of training but use less fuel and create fewer carbon emissions than other drivers' education services that use conventional vehicles.

"Interest is definitely growing," Leach said. "Our instructors teach kids not only how to drive safely and responsibly but also how they can take a proactive role in reducing oil consumption and greenhouse gases. By learning their driving skills in a hybrid they're more likely to want to buy and drive a hybrid."

Drivers Ed Direct sees itself as an alternative to the standard driving school formula of old cars, impersonal classrooms and cookie cutter instruction. In addition to "behind the wheel" training, it also offers Web-based drivers training in Florida and Nevada and offers drivers ed-related products such as training DVDs nationwide. For in-vehicle instruction, the school offers its students a choice between Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota Prius, encouraging students from "SUV families" to drive the Escape Hybrid for at least a portion of their training.

"As long as SUVs remain popular it's important for young drivers to understand and master safe driving techniques that are appropriate for SUVs," Leach said. "The Escape Hybrid is a terrific SUV to train in, but unlike most SUVs it's a fuel efficient 'green' vehicle."

The driver's school experience turned out to be a marketing tool for Ford. Jacoby says that after her experience in the hybrid SUV, she's recommending it to friends and family and hopes to be driving one herself some day soon.

"Everybody remembers the car they learned to drive in," said Usha Raghavachari, Ford Escape marketing manager. "It's great that kids like Haley can learn critical driving skills and about environmental responsibility in one of the most innovative vehicles Ford has ever built."

For more information on the driving school, visit Drivers Ed Direct.

Cleveland-based auto journalist Luigi Fraschini has taught a number of people how to drive but feels that it is a task best left to professionals.