young man in vehicle interacting with electric vehicle console
Some Quebec driving schools are retooling curriculums and instructor training in preparation for an all-electric driving future.

Driving schools in Quebec are taking the EV plunge. In the process, they’re leading Canada in teaching students in electric vehicles and in retraining instructors on how to teach new drivers using EVs

Vivek Pascal, a 37-year-old Montreal resident, is one of the thousands of Canadians every year getting their driver’s license. But unlike so many others before him, Pascal is not learning how to drive with a conventional car — rather he is using an electric one instead.

Pascal’s interest in electric vehicles first sparked after ordering an Uber and a driver in a Tesla pulled over to pick him up.

“I entered [the car] and I was completely mesmerized by the clutter-free dashboard,” remembers Pascal. “I’ve travelled to my office multiple times using Uber, but when I did it with a Tesla it really made a difference.”

The smoothness of the ride and the quietness of the motor left a strong impression on him. So much so that when Pascal started looking into getting his Canadian driver’s license, he deliberately sought a path that would keep him out of the driver’s seat of a combustion car. After a quick search, that is how he found École de Conduite Nasr.

Nasr is one of two driving schools on the island of Montreal that teaches using a 100 per cent electrical fleet, but is also part of a larger group of 70 schools participating in Quebec’s province-wide e-roule electric driving school pilot program. The e-roule pilot was launched in 2020 by Quebec’s government and the Quebec Road Safety Education Foundation (FQESR) to test the viability of 100-per-cent electric-vehicle driving schools. It is funded by the province’s transportation ministry and is the only provincial-level initiative toward electric driving instruction in Canada.

As EV adoption rates continue to expand and sales are expected to boom in the coming decades, Nasr and the other e-roule schools are not only filling an important market gap for students now but also preparing for the future. Soon, they expect to serve thousands of new students who will not only need to learn how to drive an EV (because of a federal sales mandate) but who will also — like Pascal — want to learn from instructors qualified to teach them in an EV.

“The next steps [of the program] is to offer this opportunity to as many driving schools as possible to get as many students as possible to learn on electric cars,” says Yves Georges, president of FQESR in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.

Transitioning to an electric fleet

Nasr is part of the original group of 30 driving schools chosen for the e-roule program. Before applying to the program, Nasr’s director, Ibrahim Abualeenein says he used to use images of Teslas in his ads as part of his marketing strategy to attract customers because he thought the vehicles looked “cool.” He never thought he would actually have them as part of his driving fleet — at least not until the e-roule program came along.

“The government contacted us and they were like, ‘Hey, listen, we have a project for all driving schools in Quebec and we wanted to see if you’re interested in transforming your car fleets into electric cars,” recalls Ibrahim.” I said ‘yes,’ and so we applied to it and we were chosen because of the location of our school [in Ahuntsic-Cartierville] and its popularity.”

The program’s team of experts and technicians helped to recommend which EVs were best to teach with and the type of charging infrastructure to install. As well, they assisted in distributing the vehicles to the schools and helped finance modifications to the vehicles to include dual pedal systems and the driving school’s logos.

“The e-roule program itself has worked perfectly. [We] didn’t even expect for it to work this great,” says Ibrahim. However, if there is one thing that could be improved, adds Ibrahim, it is the overall training session given by the program’s experts and technicians to teach driving school instructors the key differences between EVs and ICE vehicles.

“I told them that the program [training] has to be more consistent and on a monthly or even let’s say on a six-month basis, they have to be giving courses to driving instructors to help them learn more about the [electric] car.”

One of Nasr’s driving instructors, Reem Abualeenein, also says that she had to test and play around with the different models of EVs and their functions by herself in order to be able to confidently transfer the knowledge to the school’s other instructors and then eventually to their clients. The e-roule program only provided them with a single day of training, she adds.

Changes to the driving curriculum

Though driving an electric car is not dissimilar to driving a combustion vehicle, explain both Ibrahim and Reem, there are three main differences the school likes to highlight:

  1. That EVs have an absence of sound, meaning drivers need to be extra aware of their surroundings because other road users might not hear or notice them and keep their distances from other road users;
  2. That many EVs offer one-pedal driving which uses a car’s regenerative braking system to slow down and brake the car once the accelerator pedal is released; and
  3. That EVs can be charged using different connectors and charging speeds.

In Quebec, the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) is responsible for developing the Road Safety Education Program (RSEP) that all passenger vehicle drivers must complete in order to receive their license administered by the SAAQ.

These new pieces of information taught at Nasr and other electric driving schools are not included in the SAAQ’s education program, but Georges, from the FSQER, says that the Foundation met with the SAAQ early at the start of the pilot project to propose additional EV-specific teaching points to add to the curriculum.

“We let them know that we were not going to change the driving curriculum because every student needs to learn the basics, [but] we simply sprinkled, where it was appropriate within the current curriculum, information on driving, charging and what’s different about electric cars.”

By the end of the year, Georges adds that the Foundation will be sending a proposal to the province’s ministry of transportation and the SAAQ to improve the current program to include modules on EV driving to be taught at all driving schools across Quebec, including those that don’t teach using EVs just yet.

In an email statement to Electric Autonomy, a spokesperson from the SAAQ said: “Module 12 of the RSEP focuses on eco-driving. The topic of hybrid technology is covered, however, electric cars are not included in this or in any other module of the theory course…It is certain that in a future revision of the program, particular attention will be paid to the contents of module 12 in order to take into account new vehicle realities and technologies.”

As both an in-class and in-car driving instructor, Reem also hopes that once the SAAQ reformulates the program to include EVs, they will allocate more time for instructors to cover all the necessary information throughout the course.

“Every theory class that we give is a two-hour session. With a two-hour session, we barely have enough time to get through all of the [curriculum’s prescribed] information, so imagine when you have to integrate the electrical information. It’s overdoing it and especially for young people, it’s a lot of information to get through at once,” says Ibrahim.

They both suggest that each class should integrate less information and be 45 to 90 minutes long.

Need for greater EV education and awareness

It’s now widely believed that one of the major roadblocks to faster adoption of EVs is a shortage of easy access and availability. In one recent NRCan survey, for example, 66 per cent of Canadians said that have never driven or been a passenger in an EV. Adding to the problem, EV inventory between provinces is unevenly distributed, with only 18 per cent of dealerships having ZEVs in their inventory, outside of Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario. For these reasons, EV driving schools can be a powerful solution where students can learn all about and have access to EVs right at the start of their driving education.

“The driving schools are like the incubation phase for everyone. If you’re exposed to an EV at a very early stage then you know the very clear advantages that it has on the environment, plus on your pocket, then obviously, you’re more likely to make the decision of opting to go for an EV,” says Pascal.

The NRCan survey also showed that 71 per cent of respondents say they rely on the internet for information about EVs, while only 41 per cent say they go to a dealership to answer their questions.

Electric Autonomy reached out to Ontario’s Formula 1 Driving School, Young Driver’s of Canada, Alberta’s Tesla Driving School and British Columbia’s IXL Driver Training to ask how if they are updating their curriculums to include EVs but received no response.

While there are one-off examples of instructors teaching new drivers on their personal electric vehicles, outside of Quebec the indication is that very few (if any) large-scale driving schools are looking seriously at transitioning. Not only does this put the businesses at a competitive disadvantage, it creates an additional barrier for potential future EV drivers.

Future of EVs in driving schools

The e-roule pilot program is scheduled to wrap up by the end of this year. But there are still 490 driving schools with approximately 1,200 cars across Quebec that could convert to electric. The FQESR is hoping, therefore, that e-roule will continue.

“We’ve started the ball rolling and if [the program] stops by the end of the year, it’s still going to be a huge win because we’ve shown that it can be done and it’s viable. You can have 100 per cent electric driving school and it works, so at least we’ve achieved that,” says Georges.

The FQESR will be looking to extend the program with government funding, but regardless of its fate, Ibrahim says he has plans to open a second Nasr driving school location, and, if he does, he’s decided that it’s going to be 100 per cent electric right from the start.

“When I think about it, I used to spend at least $120 per car per week on gas,” says Ibrahim. “[For an EV] you’re paying for the vehicle since it’s a brand new car, you’re leasing and financing it but instead of spending money on maintenance on gas and oil or pedal changes, you’re putting it into a brand new car that attracts youngsters and older people to our driving school.”

As for Pascal, he’s only midway through his courses, but he says he already knows his future car will be an EV.

“I feel that if students are thinking of what their future car will be and let’s say out 50 students even if five or 10 of them decide to buy an electric vehicle, it is going to make a difference,” says Pascal.

“My teachers are not forcing us to learn on an EV but when they give us an option, EVs definitely have a bigger advantage than gas vehicles.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include additional comments from the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, which were received after publication.

NRCan survey reveals big gaps in Canadians’ awareness, education and access to EVs