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Driving schools face dead-end street

Hardy Graupner
April 27, 2020

Almost a third of all driving schools in Germany may go bust, if coronavirus-caused restrictions on schooling continue for much longer, an industry group warns. In-car lessons present particular health challenges.

In-car driving lesson showing student driver and inspector
Image: picture alliance/dpa/A. Weigel

In normal times, it's not so rare to see some folks dragging their feet on their driving lessons for fear of not being able to pass the ultimate tests. With the coronavirus crisis going on, the situation in Germany is such that even if you wanted to pass the tests and get your driver's license quickly, you simply can't, as schooling has ground to a halt across the nation.

While this is bad for would-be drivers, it's even worse for operators of driving schools themselves, who fear that many more weeks of forced, COVID-19-caused inactivity will be ruinous for their businesses.

The International Road Safety Association MOVING has just released the results of a Germany-wide poll among driving schools about their plight.

Insolvencies looming

The survey found that almost a third of the roughly 10,000 driving schools in the country would be erased from the map should the coronavirus-necessitated lockdown continue for much longer. That's because the state aid granted so far would not be enough to keep them afloat.

MOVING President Jörg-Michael Satz said all of the existing driving schools are needed, though.

"We really have such a high demand for driving schools across Germany," he told DW. "Based on what we learned from recent polls and surveys, there'd been a considerable lack of instructors even before the coronavirus hit the country."

Student drivers in a bind

MOVING also calculates that about 200,000 student drivers can't complete their training. This includes 100,000 people in need of a truck driver's license, who are badly needed in the logistics sector as well as for fire-fighting units and technical relief services, MOVING added.

Satz says it's important for driving schools and student drivers alike to be offered a perspective on how to gradually get out of the current plight. He says it would also be important for ordinary people hoping to finally be able to use a car to get around instead of being exposed to a higher infection risk in public transport.

A truck from the Uwe Kubsch driving school near Berlin
Uwe Kubsch runs a relatively big driving school and is confident he'll survive the lockdown. Many smaller driving schools in Germany are not so sure.Image: DW/H. Graupner

Safety first

Satz argued that driving schools would certainly be in a position to minimize infection risks during in-class and in-car lessons.

"As far as in-class lessons are concerned, we'd allow in only half the number of participants we'd normally have in a room, and wearing face masks would be compulsory for everyone," Satz pointed out, adding that similar measures would apply during behind-the-wheel training.

"Strict safety rules can be observed, like allowing only a maximum of two people in a car during behind-the-wheel lessons. After each session, relevant parts of the car must be disinfected, including the steering wheel and the gear shift. And of course, everyone in the car has to wear face masks."

Trying times

Uwe Kubsch runs a larger driving school in the state of Brandenburg just outside Berlin. He, too, hopes that the lockdown will end soon.

"All practical lessons have been out of the question — and this goes for passenger cars, trucks and motorbikes alike," he told DW. "As far as online theoretical lessons are concerned, the state of Brandenburg allows them to go ahead, and this is where I'm getting at least some revenues from."

Kubsch called for a more sober analysis of what's doable and acceptable during the pandemic.

"I don't really get why schooling had to be wound down completely" he said. "We would have been able to put safety measures in place long ago. And even in case someone get's infected, we're not an anonymous institution, meaning everything is documented concerning who is together with whom and when and for how long in a car or schooling room so that infection chains can be easily traced and interrupted."

Light at the end of the tunnel?

State authorities said current restrictions would continue until mid-May and would then need to be revised.

"The restrictions in place will last until at least May 10, and we're certainly hoping for an easing of the measures in place after that date," Kubsch commented.

In recent years, driving schools in Germany have logged a turnover of some €2 billion ($2.2 billion). The coronavirus crisis is certain to take a toll on annual revenues in 2020.

Less cars on the road

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