Nova Scotia·Global Studies

International students drive demand for driving lessons in Cape Breton

International students in Cape Breton are signing up in droves for driving lessons. Some want a driver's licence in order to find part-time employment, a requirement for many jobs, or as an alternative to public transit.

Driving school owner estimates up to 90 per cent of private lessons are taken by international students

Samual Shaji and Tiju Thomas, both international students at Cape Breton University, took driving lessons with Road Wise in July 2018. (Submitted by Paul Chiasson)

Driver training schools in Cape Breton are busier than usual as the influx of international students to the island drives up demand for lessons.

Paul Chiasson, owner of Road Wise Driver Training based in Glace Bay, N.S., said there has been an increase in international students enrolling in his driving school. To keep pace, he said he has been working up to 16 hours a day.

"This particular week, I normally don't drive this much, but I was six in the morning the other day to 11:30 at night," said Chiasson, who estimates up to 90 per cent of his private lessons are international students.

His students are also having to wait before taking their driving tests, he said. The Registry of Motor Vehicles is booked into November in Glace Bay, he said, and to mid-October in nearby Sydney, "which was unheard of before."

Some students are now looking to take their tests in North Sydney and Baddeck instead.

Last year, the number of international students attending Cape Breton University shot up and they made up more than half the school's student body. Some want a driver's licence in order to find part-time employment, a requirement for many jobs, or as an alternative to public transit.

Paul Chiasson snapped a selfie with driving school students Samual Shaji and Tiju Thomas. (Submitted by Paul Chiasson)

Deb White, director of administration for Young Drivers Canada, said they have also noticed an increase in demand for both classroom courses and driving lessons.

"It's been the last couple of months, I would say since February or March, that we've actually seen an increase in international students," White said.

White said the majority of the driving school lessons are for international students. Many may already have a licence in another country, but are required to take lessons and a driving test in Canada.

One motivation to get a licence is so they don't have to use transit.

"It doesn't always work well with the bus, although the bus is there for them, but it doesn't always work well with it. So having a driver's licence certainly helps them with that situation," White said. 

Freedom to explore

Samual Shaji, executive vice-president of Cape Breton University's student union, said getting a driver's licence was "mandatory" for him. He had a licence in India and got a Canadian one last summer after training with Road Wise. 

"Most of the students now tend to go for the driver's licence because the transportation is really hard," Shaji said. 

Because traffic rules and regulations vary from country to country, Shaji said driving lessons are helpful to learn the rules of the road.

Shaji said Chiasson now encourages students to take the full classroom courses so they are more comfortable with the rules. 

Some students get their licence in order to drive taxis and earn money, while others live and work outside the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and need a way to get to school and part-time jobs, according to Shaji.

"Now, five students will buy a car and live somewhere off CBRM and they will come to school in their car," Shaji said. 

Since getting his driver's licence, Shaji has purchased a car and travelled all over Cape Breton, taking photos along the Cabot Trail and posting them online.