The Best $98 You Can Spend on Your New Au Pair

by cv harquail on May 20, 2010

One of the best things a host parent can do with a new au pair is to pay some professional driving lessons.

Driving lessons are something that you should consider in addition to having the au pair go out driving with one or more host parents, and in addition to having the au pair study driving regulations of your state. Professional driving instruction can’t substitute for host parent efforts, but it can really help.

201005200738.jpgIn my town, we have a retired high school teacher who charges about $25/hr. In two-hour sessions, he will take your au pair all over town and even out onto the highway testing her/his driving skill and instructing her/him on the finer points of using a turn signal. When Gerry brings the au pair back to our house and gives her driving the thumbs up, we relax a bit– we’ve got a skilled, objective observer who has unemotionally evaluated our au pair’s driving.

Benefits of a professional driving instructor include:

  • Professional driving instructors actually know all the rules of the road.
    They can handle situations like rotaries where, admit it, you don’t really recall who has the right of way.
  • Professional driving instructors know how to teach folks to drive.
    They don’t do things like grip the dashboard and scream as your au pair drives the wrong way up an exit ramp.
  • Professional driving instructors use professional instruction cars.
    The kind with the extra brake pedal, and the big yellow “Get the hell out of the way Student Driver” signs.
  • Professional driving instructors are not invested in your au pair relationship.
    They care only about driving skill. They won’t fake it if your au pair is someone you already adore, and they won’t be mad or disappointed in your au pair if s/he takes a while to get used to American driving. Also, your au pair may be less concerned about impressing the instructor and more open to learning.
  • In some areas, you can even find professional driving instructors who speak languages in addition to English.
    Here in NJ you can find instructors who speak Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, and Lithuanian! Not having to translate your instructions as you shriek takes the drama down a notch for your au pair.

Our Experience with Professional Driving Instructions

201005200735.jpgWe got the idea of professional driving lessons after we discovered that our third au pair’s experience was mostly driving tractors. In our former town, we called up Sears and scheduled a session with one of their instructors. Two sessions on the road later, our au pair was confident and we were confident.

The driving lessons haven’t always solved the driving skills & safety issue for us, though. When we moved from Virginia to New Jersey, the au pair whose driving was fine in a small town (even though she had a fender-bender) was simply unable to cope in the more competitive driving situation of the NYC area.

After a session with Gerry, we realized that she wasn’t going to get confident enough to drive our kids around.

We briefly considered rematch, but we had only three months to go so we held our breath until our new au pair arrived. (Does this sound familiar?) In the meantime, I bought a double jogging stroller and had her walk the girls to and from their preK (which was about a mile away from our house). The walk was long and took more energy, but it was safer.

And, since our au pair had already ruined the au pair car’s appearance with the fender bender, we let her continue to drive it for her personal use, although she rarely went further than Starbucks.

Your Au Pair Agency might help out with costs.

Later, when a neighbor’s au pair got a ticket for blowing through a stop sign on her very first day, we discovered that our au pair agency was willing in certain cases to pay for driving lessons. Apparently it was worth it for them to spend $200 on lessons to avoid the problems of rematching the au pair or returning her to her home country after only two weeks.

Although I was a little irked to discover after we’d hired our own instructors that the agency might have subsidized the driving lessons, I was glad to hear that the agency did make an effort. I suspect that this is only in severe cases, not in most cases. It might be worth a phone call to find out.

All of this has come back to mind with this query from Argus, au pair who is anxious about driving here in the USA:

HI! I’m an Au Pair in USA for 2 months now and I’m having problems. I mean, I love the host family, I LOVE the kids! and the place. Everything is perfect.

The only thing is my driving. In my country I’m a good driver, I know so. But here I’m not. I’m used to old manual cars and here I drive a new automatic car. I’m getting better used to the car. But I still can’t get it right. I know is partly the place. Laws are different, miles and kilometers.. the signs are reeeally different.

And I’m nervous!! Really nervous!! I usually drive with my host mom or host dad, and that makes me more nervous. But I can’t say that to my host parents because it would sound like excuses. It is the true. Im practicing and doing my best… but doesn’t seem enough. I heard from an Au Pair that she left her host family because they weren’t comfortable with her driving. I’m scared. I don’t want to leave this family!!

Argus’s family, if you read AuPairMom, will you consider spending $98 to keep this au pair confident and safe on the road?

See Also:
How to Assess an Au Pair Candidate’s Driving Experience
7 Ways to help your Au Pair get a US driver’s license
Using Your Car is a Privilege, not an Entitlement: Best practices

Images:
California driving school. monterey…from eyetwist
S
tudent driver from _jessica

{ 11 comments }

Lucky 7 HM May 20, 2010 at 11:06 am

Driving is the biggest hot button issue for me, so I will try not to stray into allll my thoughts on the matter. HFs have varying needs for a driver, and the APs independence and social life may hinge on her ability to drive and access to a car. Regardless of whether APs come as “good” drivers, most are very inexperienced drivers, which, no matter how you cut it, adds some risk to the mix when your AP gets behind the wheel. We always pay for 1-3 professional lessons for our newly arrived AP for all the reasons you describe. From there we have her drive HM or DH around in our car without the kids so she gets used to our car and roads and so that we can assess her driving for ourselves. After about a week of that we set her free with the car – off duty only, no kids. The last step -adding the kids – always frightens me no matter what and the timeframe has varied to get there.

With our first AP we actually paid for 6 hour-long lessons along with much of our own time spent driving with her, and we never got the thumbs up from the professional instructor nor did we feel comfortable with her driving so she never drove our kids. She ended up getting in a serious car accident – I so wish I had read all the info on this blog prior to that match – I learned that one the hard way – I didn’t know that in some countries you get your license if you have a pulse. Our subsequent 5 APs have all been way better drivers, but still inexperienced and not without their issues.

I have a few recommendations for this AP who wants to stay with her family. First, show your HM or DH that you have a strong desire to improve your driving and to make them comfortable with how you drive. Listen to their feedback and don’t say things like “I know” or “I knew that but….” just say things like “you’re right, I should have used a blinker there, I will do that” or “yes, I will look over my shoulder next time when I change lanes to make sure no one is in my blind spot.” Nothing drove me more insane than an AP with the attitude of “I already know how to drive, why are you subjecting me to this silliness..” Seriously, those were the APs that made some questionable judgement calls while driving that led to an issue or fender bender.

If your HF feels you misrepresented your driving level but you feel you are just nervous, driving lessons are going to benefit both you and the HF. Your HF may not have anticipated the expense, and they may wonder how many lessons you will need. Perhaps it would be fair to ask your HF to pay for 2 lessons, and if the instructor doesn’t give you a thumbs up, you will pay for subsequent lessons. If you truly are a good driver 2 should be enough – if you need 2 after that it may be worth it for you to pay. If it is not worth it, or you need more than 2 additional lessons, it could be best for everyone if you rematch with a family that doesn’t need a driver.

Keep in mind 2 things. 1. It is still reasonable for your HF to want you to demonstrate your driving skills to them even after the lessons. 2. Some driving schools and instructors within the driving schools are better than others. We found this out the hard/expensive/time consuming way. You need to do some research on the school and try to find positive recommendations.

Should be working May 20, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I had in our handbook that the AP would have 2 driving lessons, regardless of her level of driving experience, because I wanted the security of knowing that she had the thumbs-up of a driving instructor and to give her a neutral place to truly learn how to drive better here. My husband, a softie in all ways, thinks that is excessive, and let our current AP–a transition AP who had driven several months in another city–go ahead with just some practice with us. So far, so good. But next time, if there is one, I will insist on this. It just makes sense. It’s $200, a drop in the bucket compared to even a fender-bender. And peace of mind…priceless.

some Au Pair May 20, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I am from a country were you have to take a lot of driving lessons and spend a lot of money to get a drivers license.
And I think I got a good “education” when it comes to driving a car. (changing tires, putting gas into the car, first aid, driving in snow/rain/fog)

BUT, I still would have liked to take one or two driving lessons with a professional. Just because traffic and rules are different in the US. The highways, the turning at a red traffic light, …

PacificNW_mom May 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I’ve always been surprised on this blog by how many families have au pairs that get in car accidents. I guess, for this reason, driving lessons may be a good idea. We have had four au pairs and require extensive driving as part of the job. They have all been careful drivers and none of them has even dented the car. We screen for driving in the interview process by removing from the search anyone who has driven for less than 2 years and look for APs that drive “often” rather than “occasionally.” If we got an au pair that needed lessons, it would be an immediate rematch situation. Offering lessons would not just cost $98, but would also cost much more for the extra babysitter we’d need to get to drive the kids to school and their activities until we were comfortable with an AP’s driving. Plus, I would never put my kids in a car with a new or nervous or scared driver.

aria May 20, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I wish my 1st HF had paid for driving lessons for me! Maybe it would have helped… I’m American, so when I took my driving test, I ONLY knew how to drive automatic, and I *blush* seriously thought that nobody but my grandpa drove manuals.

When I matched with them, they told me that I would have sole charge of driving the kids to and fro, and I would be driving a manual, so I took a one week class (in a 3rd world country, where I *barely* spoke the language, because my parents are ex-pats- long story) and hesitantly told them I had the notion of driving stick shift.

It so happens that my predecessor had been in a very serious car accident, with the little girl in the car- she swerved off a windy country road and flipped (literally upside down) over into a ditch. She took off the next day, and the little girl (understandably) was *traumatized*. Even getting in the car with her parents would set her off, and my HD put me behind the wheel on a highway my first day on the job, with the kids in the car.

I hit another car. Really, it was just a little bumper tap, but it flushed everyone’s confidence down the drain, and (six weeks later) I never drove alone again, and I ended up stealing away just like the last au pair, for a different issue. Thank goodness I’m in the city now, the same city I lived in last year, so I’m already completely comfortable with the public transportation! No more driving for me!

^This actually didn’t have a point to it… it’s more like an anecdote, or even a confession. I guess now that I look at it, I was one of those girls who misrepresented her driving skills because I was eager to match with a family. I knew that was a make it or break it deal, and I foolishly assumed I could sort of keep learning on the fly, which was a big mistake. Was it irresponsible? Yes, and I’ve definitely learned my lesson! But I did it with good intentions! :)

AUPAIR Momma May 20, 2010 at 4:24 pm

No. I paid for driving lessons for an aupair. We only require her to drive about 2 miles and she couldn’t do it. I did a lot of research and her driving license was ‘temporary’ from her country and her fam only had 1 car in her country and guess who had it. The mom. So when did this au pair drive? Prob never. She claimed she could drive well but I rechecked everything and she lied. Then when confronted she said BUT ALL AUPAIRS drive this way. Um No. That was rematch finally though it took 6mo for me to finally do it. From now on – the girl must drive and well. There are ways to figure out if this is possible. Its a requirement and I do not have any hours available in my schedule to give anyone driving lessons. 6 1 hr lessons are $498 here. I’m not willing to do that for someone who said they can drive.

FormerSwissAupair May 20, 2010 at 5:18 pm

My HF paid for one driving lesson just to acclimate me to Swiss roads/laws, and since I had had my license for 6 years and used to driving in much harsher climates (I’m from Colorado), I did just fine and that was that. Although I did hit the driverside mirror while backing out of their garage. Their garage was much smaller than American ones, and they insisted on having a huge SUV. Luckily, I didn’t have to pay for the damages as I told them that is what they had insurance for.

NJMom May 20, 2010 at 5:35 pm

While it does seem that paying for lessons is a good idea, I have never done it and have had three good driver, none from Germany for the record which is supposed to be the best driving country. I really think it comes down to what kind of experience they have had. Have they had daily access to a car? Were they driving in a city? My last two AP’s from Colombia could answer yes to that and we have only had a minor scratch or two to the car. Maybe I’ve just been lucky? But I don’t let them take the car on the highways or on long road trips. All our driving is fairly local.

Bruna May 20, 2010 at 5:56 pm

When I signed up for the program, I was told that an international driver´s license would allow me to drive the whole year in the US. When I got to the US, my HF asked me to get an US one, which cost me no more then 5 dollars and a couple of hours studying- taking the quiz and the road exam. I was used to driving A LOT in my home country, including automatic cars, so driving was definately not a problem to me, but I think that by asking me to get the license there, they “forced” me to study US driving laws which is awesome for them and for me.
Could be an idea… even if your state doesn’t require the au pair to get a local drivers license, maybe you should consider asking (more like requiring) her to get one.

Calif Mom May 20, 2010 at 7:48 pm

We paid for private lessons for our most recent au pair, and it was well worth it. I have no desire to ride around with a bad driver–I did that for most of my childhood (sorry, Mom! She’s one of those “brake for a green light because it might turn yellow at any second” kind of drivers).

So my hub does an evaluation and then we have a local driver trainer who sort of specializes in au pairs. (He takes them during the day when the teenagers are in school.)

As for quality of driver, our Brazilian AP who was *not* from a big city was the best–she had to drive to get *anywhere* from her home town, so she had a lot of miles under her belt. The girls from the city are much more comfortable with public transit. generalizing here, of course).

Taking a computer lunch May 20, 2010 at 10:24 pm

We’ve had five APs, three quickly passed the HD driving test, one had owned a car for two years, but had only recently “passed” her test – having, as it turned out, bribed the examiner. She had a confident personality, and within a few weeks practicing with HD, she passed his test and soon after had her American driver’s license. As for my current AP, I was warned about her country and I didn’t listen. Whew! Now that we have two school-aged kids, we don’t have time at the weekend — or most weekday evenings — to teach an AP to drive.

3 2-hour evaluation sessions with an off-duty police officer cost $477, which we split with the AP. At the end of 6 hours he told HD that she could probably pass the road test, but would fail on parallel parking and three-point turns. So, we told her, either pay for more lessons or we go into rematch because she had told us she could drive. She paid for 10 or 11 more sessions with another driving school and passed the HD driving test. Ironically, even though she learned to drive on a manual in her country, she didn’t pass the HD driving test in the “au pair car” which is a manual for another four months.

For three months we constantly reminded her a) she had to take a 3-hour classes required by our state before proceeding to the DMV and b) we would pay for everything. And then, 6 months after her arrival I got fed up, and my LCC advised me to play mum – if she didn’t get her license, then we had easy grounds not to extend.

And that’s exactly what happened. She did nothing, and 8 months when we told her we would not be extending with her (driving wasn’t the only reason – believe me) I added that because we no longer needed her to have a license for her extension year, we weren’t going to pay for it. In 9 1/2 years, she’s the only one ever to have a car accident, and then it was a just an expensive scrape on another car and there was no deductible because we weren’t claiming yet another scrape on our car (HD misculated a gas station pump once). The 5-year-old “AP car” remains spotless on the outside.

Had I to do it again, I would have just extended immediately from the moment of the accident, but hindsight is always 20/20.

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