For many people getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time is a stressful experience. Learning how to properly and safely drive is a process that might seem intimidating. But, there is a place where anyone can attain all the good qualities of a skilled driver in a fun and relaxing way.
We are, of course, talking about the driving school "Akademija" in Terazije and the trade center "Usce". This school offers its candidate EU standardized driving lessons with excellent services and using very high-end vehicles. More about this from Marko Popovic, the headmaster of Akademija driving school.
Akademija is a young driving school and a member of the „Fahrschule Rainer Group", which is the most prominent driving school in Vienna. You arrived to Serbia recently and continue to introduce new and higher standards in driving lessons. How did it all begin?
Rainer driving school in Vienna has existed since 1979. It is a family business which has since grown into eight branches with the ninth on the way. Rainer employs over 100 people, owns over 80 vehicles - mostly A class Mercedes, as well as a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porche Panamera and Shelby GT 5000.
Seeing how Vienna is a very densely populated city, many of them learned their driving skills with us and on the other hand many of the instructors working there come from Serbia.
That's how it came about that those instructors related to us that the Serbian market is a potential point of interest for the Rainer group. They said that there is potential here to make a real difference in the market offer. That's how the "Akademija" driving school came to be in 2017 and we began working officially a year later.
You organized your operations in a similar way as you do in Vienna.
In Austria, Rainer positioned their schools around the trade centers and malls where young people like to visit. They also secured a highly exceptional vehicle fleet for the education of their candidates. That is the business model we have introduced here as well.
The reason for that is simple. Nobody likes to sit in a classroom and cram. However, when the ambiance is slightly different and more interesting, the candidates feel better and it's easier for them to absorb and retain knowledge.
This is why we have selected two locations for our schools where young Belgraders like to spend their time - Terazije and the mall "Usce". This way, after they've finished their lessons, our candidates can continue having fun, go to the movies or go out together without wasting any more time.
In addition, these locations are easy to reach via city transportation, allowing us to be more accessible to our candidates so they can comfortably commute to us.
And on top of everything stated, in order for our candidates to enjoy the process of learning how to drive, we teach them using A class Mercedes and Ford Mustang GT vehicles. Up to this point we have trained exactly 1024 candidates. As a still young driving school we are very proud of that fact.
How do you teach the theory part of driving education?
What's unique to us is that we offer our candidates high service standards, matching those in Vienna. Their satisfaction comes first, which is why we are always ready to hear their needs or wishes and adjust to them.
The instructors at Akademija are exceptional, renown experts whom you can see on television as professionals whose opinions are often sought.
In our work we use the latest equipment. The theory is taught in modern classrooms which possess computers and a smart board, significantly facilitating the learning process. There is also special software which our candidates, under their instructor's supervision, can use to practice. We also provide first aid training, so you really get the entire package in one place.
Also, the theory part of the driving test is held right here in our classrooms. Everything is recorded as dictated by law - of course, with our candidates' consent - and the entire ambiance is adjusted to make the experience as comfortable for them as possible.
The goal is to make sure that the candidates feel comfortable while learning. For us, the clients' needs come first and we want to provide them the best possible education. Because every one of these individuals learning from us will one day get behind the wheel and drive, which is a massive responsibility for us.
The theory is taught in two blocks of lessons - from 9AM - 12PM and from 5PM - 8PM. This way, the candidates can choose which time suits them better because some people are still studying, others have work and so on, so we made sure to help them fit our lessons into their daily schedule. The candidates can also choose whether they wish to attend our lessons in Terazije or Usce.
Can the candidates also choose when they take their lessons?
Our instructors give lessons 7AM - 11PM every day of the week, even on weekends, so of course every candidate can select their instructor and when they take their lessons. After that we compose a time-table for them which we send to the candidate via mail or to their phones.
Incidentally, we have to driving polygons for our young drivers' training. One near the Arena and the other near the Zemun marketplace. This way we allow the drivers to do exercises on our driving courses without any stress or pressure, which is important for them to shake their initial fears and concerns regarding driving.
We do our best to use our approach, knowledge and professionalism to teach our candidates to not only drive well, but also conduct themselves properly in traffic. This is why we continue to invest in the improvement of our instructors who regularly attend seminars held by Agencies for traffic safety, to keep in touch with any changes in the traffic laws and regulations.
You offer very high standards, but your prices are still within average for our market. Are there also any benefits involved in that regard?
In terms of payments, we have adapted to the current market and I believe that we are currently the only driving school that allows you to pay in 18 monthly installments of 3,999rsd per month. This means that anyone can achieve their goal - learn to drive and get their license - while continuing to make payments later. We also offer a promotional price for B category of 60,600rsd plus first aid and a doctor's bill of health free of charge for anyone who enlists before 31st of December 2019!
In our country they traditionally teach driving using our nationally produced "Jugo" vehicles. But your offer includes much higher-class vehicles at the same price. Why is that?
The reason for this is that we want to provide our candidates with a truly unique experience while they are learning to drive. Taking their first lessons in driving in a truly beautiful vehicle will make their first experience operating a car a positive one. We want them to feel uplifted and proud and learn to love driving while using a Mercedes to learn how to drive properly and safely.
And on top of that, your candidates also have the chance to get behind the wheel of a powerful Mustang.
Yes, this is a free double-lesson available for our candidates during which they can drive a Ford Mustang GT5000 on the highway, to really give them a chance to experience the sheer power of that vehicle.
Many of our newly enlisted candidates don't realize they would get to try out the Mustang - they usually think that it's only there for promotional purposes. They're always pleasantly surprised that they get to enjoy this kind of experience behind the wheel.
We have had questions and concerns on how we can allow such inexperienced drivers to operate such a powerful vehicle. However, there's no cause for concern and this exercise is actually a very powerful teaching tool. Namely, when our candidates sit down in the Mustang, start up the engine, hear it and sense its power, they usually get a little daunted by it. But if they hadn't before, in that moment they usually develop a sense of respect and awe for driving and traffic, so that we'd never had a mishap where someone stepped on the gas too hard or was careless. Quite the opposite.
Namely, the new traffic laws state that young drivers are prohibited from operating higher horsepower vehicles and the period of probatory driving license has been extended to two years. I think this law protects the young and new drivers and it's good that it takes so long.
Statistic shows that it is precisely the youngest driver that participate in the largest percentage of traffic accidents.
However, when they feel the power of the Mustang, the awe of the vehicle's capabilities is immediately visible. We'd never had a situation where the instructor had to intervene or someone started racing down the highway because the candidates are immediately aware that this could be a dangerous weapon. This awareness is something that stays with them later on, keeping them vigilant any time they get behind the wheel.
And lastly, once you learn how to tame a Mustang, driving other, weaker vehicles is far, far easier and safer.
What are some most common problems that your candidates face when taking their driving test.
We've had situations that candidates drive very well while practicing and are very observant of all the situations in traffic. But most of them are young people who get nervous during the test itself, so they're prone to mistakes they wouldn't normally make.
This is why it's important to get a good night's rest before the test and remember that their instructor and a police officer are there during the test. All they need to do is drive as they do during any regular lesson and everything will be alright.
If they don't pass their test on their first try, are there any additional benefits for the candidates?
There are options for additional lessons if the instructor feels the candidate needs it. However, we always try to help the candidates who hadn't fully grasped certain lessons and give them one free bonus lesson to help them prepare for the next test.
Still, usually it turns out that nerves are the problem. We haven't noticed any difference in quality of driving between male and female candidates.
The "Akademija" driving school also offers conditioning lessons for those who have their license but haven't operated a car in a while, so they need some practice to regain their routine and confidence in driving.