Driving schools selling shortcuts to insurance discounts and faster road tests, investigation reveals

Driving schools selling shortcuts to insurance discounts and faster road tests, investigation reveals

Many Ontario driving instructors are willing to be paid to help falsify documents, saying students took driving classes when they didn’t, a CBC Marketplace investigation has found.

Marketplace called 20 driving school instructors in Ontario who posted online ads offering beginner driver education (BDE) lessons. Fourteen of them, or 70 per cent, offered to help break licensing rules.

Historically, about 40 per cent of novice drivers have completed the beginner driver education training. In 2022, 160,000 (out of about 400,000) newly licensed drivers completed the training.

To obtain a BDE certificate, a new driver must complete 10 hours of in-car lessons, 20 hours of in-class theory and 10 hours of homework with the driving school. It typically costs between $650 and $1,500.

When new drivers can prove they’ve completed a BDE course in Ontario, it makes them eligible to take their road test sooner, and they may receive insurance discounts of up to 30 per cent once they have their licence.

Those sorts of discounts are also available to those who complete similar courses in Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Fees range from $150 to nearly $400

When a Marketplace journalist, posing as a prospective student, phoned 20 driving instructors advertising in the Greater Toronto Area, the majority offered to register the student with Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation as having completed a full BDE course when they hadn’t.

Forged documents would also be kept on file by the driving school, to show the student completed the required driving experience and coursework when in actuality they hadn’t attended a single lesson. The fee for facilitating this ranged from $150 to nearly $400, depending on the instructor.

“It is concerning,” said Ontario Auditor General Shelley Spence. “We have drivers out on the road that are not trained and not certified properly.”

A woman in a blazer looks into the camera.
Ontario Auditor General Shelley Spence is calling on the provincial government to bring back mystery shopping audits to catch unscrupulous driving schools. (Asha Tomlinson/CBC)

After arranging to meet in person at a Toronto parking lot, one instructor showed an undercover Marketplace journalist how false information is filed in the ministry database. He then offered to take them to a nearby driving school, where they could sign the forms that would be kept by the school in case of an audit from the ministry.

“I’ve done it thousands of times,” he said while being documented by a hidden camera.

The driving instructor’s fee was $385.

WATCH | Hidden camera footage captures driving instructor willing to help falsify documents: 

Undercover journalists meet driving instructor willing to help falsify documents

A sneak peak at the Marketplace investigation into Ontario driving schools that were willing to take payment in exchange for falsifying documents to say students had completed beginner driver education training even when they hadn’t.

After calling the official BDE course a “waste of time,” another instructor told Marketplace over the phone that “we have what we call option B.” He, too, explained that the actual forgery would take place at the driving school.

“We allow you to come to our school to fill out the document. We’re sort of breaking the rules a little bit, but you know, my boss needs to know that it’s someone she can trust. So she trusts people that come through us instructors,” he said.

He advised the journalist to make a 15-minute appointment with the “manager” at the driving school he worked with. He said the school charged $220 and asked that they bring the money in cash.

The driving school is among 844 schools approved by the Ministry of Transportation to offer BDE courses. The provincial government typically audits all approved schools every three to five years.

  • Watch the full Marketplace episode, “Driving schools exposed: Who’s cheating the system?,” Friday at 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland, on CBC-TV and any time on CBC Gem or YouTube.

During the 15-minute appointment that took place inside the driving school office, the “manager” explained their part in the scheme while showing the documents that would be forged.

“This is how your file is gonna look. This information you have, we keep it for three years as per ministry requirements, because they might want to come in and check and make sure that you actually completed all the courses.”

The process was short, and when asked how long the driving school had been doing this, she said, with a laugh, “for about 15 years now. Yes, quite some time.”

Marketplace is not naming the schools or instructors it documented, as its investigation found the issue to be systemic and not isolated to a single school.

Aerial (drone) images of traffic on 407 Express Toll Route at Highway 400 in Vaughan. Shot January, 26, 2024
An aerial view of traffic on the 407 Express at Highway 400 in Vaughan, Ont. Out of the 20 driving schools in Ontario that Marketplace called, 14 were willing to break licensing rules. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Issue on AG’s radar

A 2023 report by the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario raised the issue of driving schools breaking the rules around BDE certificates. The same issue was raised in a 2007 auditor general’s report.

Both recommended the Ministry of Transportation do more to crack down on the issue.

The report says the ministry used to conduct mystery shopping programs, but it stopped in 2020, citing high costs. However, the auditor general’s office was able to complete 14 mystery shopping trips of its own between May and October 2023, and found 11 schools allowed the mystery shoppers to “shorten, or even abandon their in-car training and still issued them a BDE certificate.”

After Marketplace shared its findings with Ontario Transportation Minister Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, he said the government has a zero-tolerance policy and will come down on bad actors. He added that he is looking at increasing sanctions on “any type of behaviour that is not aligned with rules and regulations.”

Spence said the mystery shopping program should be brought back.

“It’s a great audit technique to look at controls, look at compliance, look at what happens out there,” she said. “The government can’t tell from that paperwork that this has occurred.”