The Severna Park educational program Learn to Drive is celebrating its 25th year of service this summer.
The program was started by Joe Campbell, a retired police sergeant. Among his many roles, Campbell served as a traffic cop and an instructor at the police academy, teaching emergency driving and traffic law.
He was inspired to retire early from police work and become a driving instructor when his son started driving.
“When my son was getting ready to get his license, I was a police officer at the time and I was well into my career,” Campbell said. “I sent him to what I thought was a good driving school and he learned absolutely nothing.”
Campbell thought he could use his background as a cop to help new drivers.
“As a traffic officer, I spent time enforcing and teaching, and I thought that this would be a natural transition for me because I could teach people the laws,” Campbell said.
He also realized that there weren’t many programs available in the area.
“There was a driving school in Severna Park at the time, but it was the only one in town and it was very busy, so I had to send my son to Pasadena, and the next closest one was in Annapolis at the time,” Campbell said. “So it was kind of an underserved market.”
Starting a new driver’s education program wasn’t easy. “Getting started was a difficult process because I was the new guy in town,” Campbell said. “I was breaking into a field that was kind of controlled by the industry, and if you weren’t part of the industry already, it was hard to break into.”
Since classes started in August 1994, the program has had to adapt to many challenges, including competition from other driving schools.
“We’ve seen competitors come and go,” Campbell said. “We had one guy that said that he was going to put me out of business and now he’s out of business and I’m still here.”
Campbell’s favorite part about being a driving instructor is the impact that he has on the kids.
“I get compliments all the time from parents that their one kid went to a different driving school and this kid that’s in my class now is telling the other one things that they never learned and correcting the parents for things that they’re doing wrong,” Campbell said.
In recent years, Campbell has seen the kids of former students taking classes at his program.
Summer has been busy for Campbell but he might celebrate the milestone later in the year. His ideas include a car show or, he said, “maybe have some special day at the shopping center where we have a cookout and bring back former students.”