• Net puts traffic school in fast lane

    EVEN SOMETHING as seemingly unchangeable as drivers education has been revolutionized by the Internet.

    That's what seems to be driving Oakland-based DriversEd.com, whose online traffic school and drivers education course is attracting folks from around the country, about 500,000 a month.

    And for the family-run business, which for 20 years ran a drivers education school for locals in downtown Oakland, morphing to online has allowed it to turbocharge even as it follows an old tradition of passing from father to son.

    "You need two types of people to run this business, one who knows the industry and one who knows the Internet," said Isaak Tsifrin, 65, chief executive officer of DriversEd.com. He founded Easy Driving School LLC — the predecessor to the modern-day DriversEd.com — and operated it for 20 years, so he knows the driving school business.

    His son, Gary Tsifrin, 32, chief operating officer, knows the Internet.

    Gary Tsifrin's interest in online video production while a student of fine arts at the University of California, Los Angeles, led him to push the company into the Internet age.

    "We wanted to make streaming videos" for the business, Gary Tsifrin said. "Back in 1997, this was a wild idea."

    But his youthful ideas were goaded by an attendee at Isaak Tsifrin's traffic school course, Gary Golduber. An engineer taking the class to cover a penalty from a traffic violation, Golduber approached the Tsifrins one day and said, "Let's put this on the Web."

    Now, DriversEd.com is the largest Web-based drivers education school in the country, with about 500,000 unique visitors a month, the Tsifrins said. They base this claim on the fact that DriversEd.com is the only drivers education Web site big enough to be tracked by comScore Media Metrix, which measures Internet traffic.

    More than 1 million people have actually registered for courses since the Tsifrins launched WebTrafficSchool.com in 1998 and DriversEd.com in 2002.

    Now, motor vehicles departments from eight states have approved the DriversEd.com course and certificate program for granting a learner permit. Would-be drivers from all 50 states can prepare for learner permit tests on the site. In Santa Clara County, the site is the Superior Court-designated traffic school for drivers ordered to return to traffic school or pay a fine.

    To get a driver license, you still need additional behind-the-wheel training — which, in California, is at least six hours of professional instruction.

    Isaak Tsifrin started his drivers training school 26 years ago, teaching beginners the rules of the road in a classroom and then behind the wheel in one of his small fleet of vehicles. It was called Easy Driving School LLC. He also offered Sunset Traffic Academy for those who ran afoul of traffic violations.

    Once the Tsifrins decided to take the traffic school online under the name WebTrafficSchool.com, the online business grew slowly but steadily, as the family persuaded different court jurisdictions to approve the program.

    But in the past few years, DriversEd.com has boomed, the Tsifrins say. That's because of wholesale acceptance of the Web, but also because fewer and fewer high schools offer drivers education as part of their curriculum.

    "The budget crisis in California schools led high schools to drop drivers ed courses," Gary Tsifrin said. Now teenagers, or their parents, must turn to private drivers education courses to get the requisite training for a learning permit and license. DriversEd.com courses are priced between $75 and $150.

    "We started with the three of us working in the basement. Now we have 75 people," Isaak Tsifrin said. In Oakland, the company has 42 employees who include video producers and engineers along with driver trainers and customer service employees. Another 33 people work in Mountain View.

  • DriversEd.com in the News