By Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Following a noted absence in Fort Frances in recent years, young drivers are now once again able to learn the ins and outs of being behind the wheel of a vehicle in both a classroom and safe simulated setting.
Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI) has stepped in to begin offering a Ontario Ministry of Transportation approved Driver’s Training course at their Fort Frances Campus. The course being offered is from DriveWise, who list themselves as “Canada’s largest provider of Road Safety programs” on their website.
The first offered session of the new drivers training program began on February 20 at the SGEI campus. SGEI Employment Navigator Lauren Nelson explained that offering the program was a natural choice for the institute, especially considering how vital having a licence is to getting jobs in this part of the province.
“We found that having a driver’s licence is a huge barrier for employment,” Nelson said.
“We decided it was a great opportunity not only to serve the youth in the community, but also some of those people that are looking for jobs and just need that extra help or step to get that little piece that’s going to get them to work every day.”
Like other offerings from SGEI, the Driver’s Training program is open to everyone in order to better prepare them for the G2 exam, as well as give them practical knowledge for safe driving. Nelson noted that SGEI is currently only offering small class sizes on a monthly basis to test the waters and keep participants safe, but as the program goes on the hope is that class sizes and the number of sessions offered will expand.
“When we get into the swing of things we’ll be running a course here and a course in Kenora simultaneously,” she said.
“Eventually we’ll be doing one up in Sioux Lookout as well. The classroom portion is 20 hours, which can either run two consecutive weekends, during March break it can run four consecutive weekdays. We’re also looking at offering it over eight days, with two and a half hour sessions after school. Aside from the classroom portion there are 10 hours of homework students have to do and then there are 10 hours of in-car sessions they do one-on-one with an instructor. We also have a mobile simulator that’s coming that we’ll be able to take into some of the communities and offer the training onsite. It’s really exciting, and we’ll be able to do up to 24 students once COVID goes away.”
If the term “mobile simulator” has caught anyone’s ear, it’s worthwhile to note that those students taking the Driver’s Training course here in Fort Frances also have access to a next-level driving simulator from DriveWise called the PatrolSim PS6. The simulator is a four screen setup, with three screens set to mimic the driver, front and passenger side windows, complete with side and rear view mirrors. The simulator is also set up with other functions that would be found in a real life vehicle. The turn signals make recognizable clicks as they are switched on, and hitting a curb or vehicle causes the seat to rumble in a lifelike fashion.
The fourth screen in the set up offers the instructor or any other visitors a bird’s eye view of the car the student is currently driving down the virtual street, not dissimilar to the view you would get playing any contemporary driving video game. The purpose of the simulator isn’t getting a best time, of course, but allows for students to experience driving and dangerous situations from the safety of the classroom.
“SGEI is the only driving school in Ontario west of Thunder Bay with this driving simulation equipment,” Nelson said.
“The simulators can be programmed to give students realistic experience with things like tire blowouts, poor weather conditions, deer crossing the road and other emergency scenarios that we just can’t provide in a car.”
Nelson noted that while the functionality isn’t quite here yet, the PatrolSim PS6 can also be set up to function as any number of other vehicles, from emergency vehicles like a police car or ambulance, to larger things like busses, transport trucks or snow plows. This variable function means that students in a host of different programs could eventually be sat down on the driving simulator to better learn the ins and outs of their particular work vehicle, again before ever getting behind the wheel of the real thing.
Students in the program will have one year to complete all of the combined in class and practical sessions in order to successfully complete the Driver’s Training, and Nelson said the perk remains that successfully completing the course allows drivers to take their G2 exam earlier than they otherwise would be able to, though students would have to check with their insurance providers to see what, if any, perks they offer for having completed the course.
“I know Seven Gens has been talking about offering this program for many many years, and it’s taken just this year since COVID started to get it up and running,” Nelson said.
“We’re excited to finally have that [MTO] certificate up on the wall and ready to go.”
For more information about SGEI’s Driver’s Training program or to see when the next available classes will be, visit their website at www.7generations.org/driving-school.