On Your Side Alert: Complaints about local driving school

On Your Side Alert: Complaints about local driving school

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Parents called NBC12 claiming they paid a local driving school, but say the the company didn't deliver and their kids couldn't get their licenses.

Our investigation uncovered similar complaints filed with Better Business Bureau.  After receiving several complaints from viewers about Friendly Driving School in Richmond, we went to work to get you some answers.

Many said they paid their money but the classes were canceled and they couldn't get a refund. The driving school wouldn't even reply to emails.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Friendly Driving School has an alert and an F rating. The consumer organization says files indicate a pattern of complaints concerning customer service and delivery issues.

The company released a statement, saying, "We have addressed all concerns raised and brought to our attention. We have been explicit about a few operational issues with the existing management team and have worked to address all of these as we go. We have not scheduled new classes since January in trying to put the house in order and have actively been seeking a new management team to start operating the school. We do have in progress works with a new management team to restore operations to normalcy probably from mid March to early April."

Brandy Brubaker, a Department of Motor Vehicles spokesperson says if you find yourself having problems with a driving school, the place to file a complaint is with her agency. "It's like any business that you would be dealing with. Do your homework, ask questions, ask for recommendations from family members. If your child goes to school with someone that has recently completed driver training, ask them if they like the school," she said.

Brubaker says DMV couldn't specifically discuss Friendly's situation because it's currently investigating the school. However, the agency said it has received six complaints since September and already resolved five of the six. It also says,"For the most part, consumers have alleged one of two concerns: 1) They paid for classroom and in-car training but, after they finished classroom training, they couldn't reach the instructor to do the in-car instruction and had a difficult time reaching the school to get the classroom certificate. 2) The student completed the classroom and in-car instruction and received a certificate of completion but the company did not forward a copy of the certificate to DMV to issue the license."

Brubaker says driving schools are licensed by DMV. She says if your child is not taking driving classes at their high school. you should head to DMVNOW.com for a reputable list. If you don't see it on the school on the site, she says steer clear. "Those are the ones that are licensed and regulated by DMV, so that if you would have an issue, we can follow up with it and you want to make sure it's legit so you can get their drivers license," she explains.

DMV says there are about 300 licensed driving schools. Most of the complaints it receives are administrative. It reminds parents this is about your child's safety. You should be asking lots of questions and not just to the driving school but also to your kids. "Ask them what they learned, what they did that day, if they drove, where they drove. A red flag would be if your child came home after two or three classes and says I passed, I am such a good driver mom," Brubaker said.

DMV has the power to suspend, fine, or shut down a driving school found in violation. Again, it says if you've selected a company from its website, it should be smooth sailing.

Most of the 300 driving schools in the state have been licensed for years without cause for concern. If you have concerns about driver training schools, call DMV at 877-885-5790 or email dmvclu@dmv.virginia.gov.

Driver training schools are audited annually. We may also conduct random audits at our discretion. In addition, when we receive a complaint, if the situation warrants it, we assign a DMV special agent to investigate.

If a driver training school or instructor poses a danger to public safety, the school's license or the instructor's license can be immediately suspended until the outcome of an administrative hearing, if the school or instructor requests one.

Regulatory violations usually result in the suspension of the school and/or instructor licenses for a period of time for each violation. Suspension time for each violation ranges from 30-90 days, depending on the severity of violation. Also, depending on the severity and nature of the violation, it could be referred to the Commonwealth's Attorney in the jurisdiction where the driver training school is located for criminal prosecution. Most violations are regulatory and DMV can impose fines of up to $1,000 per violation and suspension of the school and/or instructor's license(s).