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The founder of Cerussi Driving School, Michael Cerussi has dedicated his life to promoting safety on the road.
Michael Cerussi is the owner of Cerussi Driving School. The school employs over 20 qualified driver's education teachers who work with both beginning drivers and drivers who might need a refresher course. Thanks to the efforts of the teachers, the school has helped hundreds of students pass their driver's license tests over the past 15 years.
Driving instruction at the school is more hands on than instruction and education offered through other driver's education programs. Cerussi believes that people learn best when given the opportunity to do something. Watching slide shows and reading rule books and texts more often than not makes people feel completely bored and shuts down the learning process. The Cerussi Driving School stands out from other programs because students are given the most time on the road, not sitting at desks.
Driver's education at Cerussi Driving School doesn't just take place behind the wheel, though. Michael Cerussi understands that there is much more to driving than simply knowing when to stop and what speeds to drive at. He also incorporates lectures on the dangers of drunk and distracted driving into his lessons. No one is able to graduate from the school without first attending at least one lecture on the dangers of drunk driving.
As the issue of distracted driving, or driving while texting or using an electronic device becomes a larger and larger concern, Cerussi Driving School has taken steps to incorporate lessons on avoiding distracted driving into the curriculum. A section on the risks involved when cell phones and gadgets are used behind the wheel has now become a standard part of the curriculum.
Michael Cerussi has always had a love for driving and cars. He believes that his interest in driving came from his grandfather, who would often take Cerussi out for a drive on weekend days. As a teenager, Cerussi was a big fan of any movie or program that featured cars prominently. Some of his favorite movies were the original "Italian Job" with Michael Caine and "Bullitt" with Steve McQueen.
As he grew up, he was still a big fan of cars, but his focus began to shift from cars that went fast or broke the rules to cars that followed the rules of the road. He still enjoyed watching the thrill of the chase on screen, but found that in real life, he much preferred cars that promoted safety. Michael Cerussi thinks that this change came about after a few of his high school classmates were severely injured in a car accident a few weeks before graduation. None of the students involved in the accident were drinking, he remembers. But the car was traveling at twice the speed limit on a dark road on a rainy night. Fortunately, none of his classmates were killed, though the accident had a lasting impact on everyone.
After graduating from high school, Cerussi enrolled at Pennsylvania State University. His original plan was to become a teacher, but he wasn't sure what he wanted to teach yet. He enrolled in the elementary education program, since that didn't require him to choose a subject matter. After two semesters in the program, he realized it wasn't a good fit. He wanted to teach, but not in the traditional academic setting.
What he wanted to do was teach people to drive and to pass on an appreciation for driver's safety. He soon found out that the process of becoming a driver's education instructor is slightly different than the process of becoming a teacher in any other subject area. To become an instructor with a private driving school, a person needs to have a clean driving record and training, which is in many cases provided by the school. It doesn't require a college degree.
But, Michael Cerussi wanted to finish his college degree. He switched from majoring in education to majoring in business. His goal was not just to become an instructor, but to one day launch a driving school. He hoped that having an undergraduate background in business management would prove helpful.
While completing his bachelors degree, Cerussi started a training program to become a driver's education instructor. He had gotten his driver's license at the age of 16 and had no tickets or accidents in the five years that he had it.
Becoming a driving instructor meant he also had to pass a state and federal background check and two examinations. The first exam took place at the local DMV and the second one was held in the state's capital of Harrisburg. Once he began the instructor training program, Michael Cerussi quickly earned the respect of the couple who operated the driving school. They were impressed with his drive and dedication.
Shortly after he finished college, Cerussi was promoted to lead instructor at the driving school. The new position meant that he was in charge of overseeing the other instructors and for scheduling lessons and courses. The promotion also meant that he received a higher rate of pay, which was very helpful.
At the time of his promotion, the issue of drunk driving was drawing national attention. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) had been started in 1980, 12 years earlier. The organization was already starting to have an impact on the way people looked at drinking and driving. Michael Cerussi decided that it was also time to start incorporating lessons on alcohol use and driving into the school's curriculum. He got the approval of the school's owners and began including at least one lesson on the dangers of drunk driving in each driver's training session.
As lead instructor, Michael Cerussi also began to shift the focus of the private training program away from textbook-based lessons to more immersive, on-the-road experiences. He convinced the owners of the school to invest in a driving simulator, which allowed students to have on-the-road experience without getting behind the wheel of an actual car.
He also began scheduling more and more time on the road in the school's specially equipped cars for students who were nearing the end of their training. Cerussi wanted to give the students as much driving experience as possible before they took their tests. During the six years he spent at the school as lead instructor, the school saw a sharp increase in the number of students who passed their driver's test on the first try.
Although he enjoyed his time teaching at the school, Michael Cerussi wanted more. In 1998, he decided to take the next step and opened his own driving school. His new school was located a few hours away from his original employers. Cerussi had a lot of respect for the school where he was first trained and employed for nearly 10 years. He didn't want to be in direct competition with them.
The Cerussi Driving School had humble beginnings. At first, it was just Cerussi and one other instructor. The school had just one car for training, no simulator and a lot of antiquated driver's education materials. Cerussi brought a lot of his techniques from his first job to the new school. Drinking and driving education was a key component of the driver's training at Cerussi Driving School.
It actually proved to be one of the most popular components, particularly with the parents of teenaged drivers. The school began to take a new approach to educating student drivers about the dangers of drinking and driving. A simple lesson on the risks was no longer enough. The school began to bring in people who were directly affected by drinking and driving to speak to students, which made the lessons more powerful.
As state laws for getting a driver's license changed, the school was ready to change with them. The school's focus on behind the wheel training has helped countless students log the appropriate number of driving hours before their test. Michael Cerussi is proud to have been on the cutting edge of driver's training for over two decades.
Big plans are in the works for Cerussi Driving School. Since it first opened its doors in 1998 with just two instructors, including Michael Cerussi, the school now employs over 20 instructors. Students that sign up for the training program include not only beginning drivers but also drivers who need to take courses for insurance reasons or because they have been ordered by the court.
The school is quickly growing and the hope is to open a second location within the next few years. Michael Cerussi notes that cuts to public education and stricter rules for getting a driver's license have made driver's training more popular in recent years. He hopes that his school will be able to continue to grow to meet the demand of increased training.
Along with offering driver's training on the road and in the classroom, Cerussi also has plans to offer more focused training sessions. The use of cell phones and gadgets behind the wheel has become a major issue but there is still a lack of education on the subject. States might ban the practice of texting and driving, but people fail to fully grasp the reasoning behind it.
The Cerussi Driving School aims to start offering panel discussions and lectures on the dangers of distracted driving. The discussions and lectures won't be limited to students in the driver's training programs. Instead, Cerussi hopes to make them available to all, so that the dangers of distracted driving become more fully understood and so that people start to actually change their behavior.
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