- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — A driver-education school with branches in four Maryland counties shortchanged students on lessons and instructors on wages, according to complaints lodged with the state, the Better Business Bureau and the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office.

One instructor for Behind the Wheel Driving School demanded money from students and made them wait while he ran personal errands and ate lunch, customers told the Frederick News-Post.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) is investigating the complaints, agency spokesman Buel C. Young said yesterday.

Waymon Wright, a co-owner of Behind the Wheel, said the company was addressing the situation.

“We’re a small business, we’re struggling, but we’re straightening things out,” Mr. Wright told the News-Post, which published a story Sunday about the company.

Behind the Wheel has locations in Frederick, Germantown, Glenelg, Hagerstown and Mount Airy. It is among scores of state-certified driver-education schools listed on the MVA’s Web site.

Mr. Young said such schools do most of the driver education in Maryland. Public-school districts in some counties offer driver instruction as an extracurricular activity, and one — Garrett — offers it as a part of the regular school program.

Mr. Young said a private school can lose its certification for violating state laws and regulations, such as a state requirement to provide 30 hours of classroom instruction and at least six hours of instruction behind the wheel.

Vicky Roby of New Market said her stepson received just two hours of driving time after signing up for a $279.95 course at Behind the Wheel’s Germantown location in June.

She said her stepson also told her the instructor would stop with students in the car “to get a hot dog, stop by his store, stop by his house.”

Tina and Jonathan Turgel, the boy’s mother and stepfather, said he told them the same thing.

“He had to sit in the car while the teacher ate hot dogs and drank a Big Gulp,” Mr. Turgel said. “They spent more time in the 7-Eleven parking lot than they did driving.”

The Turgels said they grew more concerned when their son said the instructor had told the students that “if anybody wants to finish driving, they need to pay for gas.”

When the family refused, saying it was part of the fee they had paid, the lessons ended, they said.

A former Behind the Wheel employee, Ann Connell of Fallston, said the company’s payroll checks bounced when she managed a location in Fallston for about 12 months in 2003 and 2004. From September 2003 until May 2004, when she left the company, the bank refused every check for insufficient funds, she said.

She said she continued paying employees from her own money, using all of her savings and causing her to be late with a mortgage payment.

Miss Connell said she then went to Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office, which filed criminal charges against Behind the Wheel Driving School and Mr. Wright. Court documents list 16 counts, including writing bad checks. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 7.

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