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Driving course for newcomers not reaching its full potential, instructor says

'It helped me to understand the rules of the road in Canada, and I can get a Class 5 licence. Then I can drive my friends to anywhere,' says Frankie Fung. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC - image credit)
'It helped me to understand the rules of the road in Canada, and I can get a Class 5 licence. Then I can drive my friends to anywhere,' says Frankie Fung. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC - image credit)

The manager of a driving school on P.E.I. says a program meant to help newcomers obtain a driver's licence isn't reaching its full potential.

Through the Licensed Driver Education Course, experienced drivers from outside Canada can use that experience to help them get a full licence.

But Eric Brookins, with Safe Drivers P.E.I., said not enough is being done to promote the program. He says he's seeing it first hand.

"A lot of the time right now, newcomers are completely unaware of this program," he said.

He said they're often going through a different program intended for foreign drivers, called the Novice Driving Course for Newcomers, he said. That still gives them a licence, but it carries restrictions for some time. The Novice Driving Course for Newcomers is delivered through the province while the Licensed Driver Education Course is delivered through private driving schools.

Eric Brookins with Safe Drivers P.E.I. say more should be done to promote the Licensed Driver Education Course.
Eric Brookins with Safe Drivers P.E.I. say more should be done to promote the Licensed Driver Education Course.

Eric Brookins with Safe Drivers P.E.I. says more should be done to promote the Licensed Driver Education Course. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC)

The Licensed Driver Education Course program launched a little over a year ago. Brookins said so far, the number of students taking it through his company represents "probably less than a quarter of all of the licence exchanges happening on P.E.I."

We essentially verify that this person has, in fact, been driving a car for two years.- Eric Brookins

To qualify for the program, newcomers have to have held a licence for at least two years in another country. They also have to complete 41 hours of training, including in-classroom instruction, in-car observation and in-car driver training, according to the province's website.

"We essentially verify that this person has, in fact, been driving a car for two years," Brookins said.

A major benefit of the course is the unrestricted licence it provides and the opportunities that come with it. The unrestricted licence allows drivers to go on and get a commercial licence, allowing them to drive a truck or taxi.

"Often they'll come [to] complete it just so they can get to that right away," he said.

Frankie Fung just completed the course and says he had a driver's license in Hong Kong for 20 years.
Frankie Fung just completed the course and says he had a driver's license in Hong Kong for 20 years.

Fung just completed the course and says he had a driver's licence in Hong Kong for 20 years. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC)

Frankie Fung, who held a drivers licence in Hong Kong for more than 20 years, recently completed the program through Brookins's driving school.

"I joined this class for two reasons. First, because I'm a newcomer, it helped me to understand the rules of the road in Canada," he said.

"Then I can get a Class 5 licence when I complete and pass this course. Then I can drive my friends anywhere."

He said other avenues of getting a driver's licence on P.E.I., like the Novice Driver Course for Newcomers introduced in 2019, would have taken him "too long."

Nobody from the province was available for interview, but in a statement it said about 2,000 people enrolled in the Novice Driver Course for Newcomers in 2023.

It can take up to 30 days for the course to begin, depending on course availability and space.

It said private driving schools determined that about 115 people were eligible for the Licensed Driver Education Program.

People coming to Canada from countries with driver's licence exchange agreements like the U.S. do not need to complete a written exam or driving test.