Ready for the Test – Driver’s Ed

A familiar sight around Fairview, one of Top Cop's signature sedans.

Credit Top Cops

A familiar sight around Fairview, one of Top Cop’s signature sedans.

When Matt Cabot was working as a traffic sergeant for the Thornton Police Department, he and his officers noticed a pattern. Many of the car accidents in the area were caused by teenage drivers who had recently acquired their licences. One officer after another said the same thing: “somebody needs to teach these kids how to drive.”
“Don’t just come to me and tell me somebody should teach these kids how to drive, we need a solution,” said Cabot, thinking back on his conversations with his fellow officers.
Cabot asked his colleagues if they would be interested in helping him address the issue of poor driving skills among teenagers. He wanted the officers to spend their weekends and days off teaching kids how to drive safely. A group of officers liked the idea and in 2012, founded TopCops Driving School.
“We’re the cops,” said Cabot. “We should be teaching these kids.”
Seven years later, TopCops has become a well-established business for Boulder County teenagers seeking drivers’ education. The company, which currently employs 30 driving instructors, has provided classroom training and driving instruction to more than 10,000 students.
Many of those students attend Fairview. Often, new drivers will meet TopCops instructors in the senior parking lot. TopCops sedans, easily identified by a logo shaped like a police badge, are a regular sight there, as well as around the streets of Boulder.
Most of the instructors are field training officers who teach new police recruits how to drive police cars during pursuit. Field training officers teach new drivers skills such as identifying hazards, predicting outcomes and using hand-eye coordination. Sergeant Cabot found that most of the tactics taught to new police recruits overlap with important day-to-day driving skills.
“We are not teaching [new drivers] how to get into pursuits or drive super fast, but a lot of that stuff transfers down to the most basic kind of driving skills,” said Cabot. “We can teach these kids about the accidents that we’ve seen so that they don’t make the same mistake.”
Not all students are naturals at driving and this reality presents risk. Though TopCops has never had a crash that resulted in an injury, the company has had a lot of lesser incidents. They have seen kids hit parked cars and drive through construction barriers.
“We even had a kid take a turn wide and drive down into Boulder Creek,” said Cabot.
A typical lesson is less eventful. TopCops introduces the basics in the parking lot. Drivers with experience then move to gradually harder terrain, such as a quiet neighborhood street, eventually graduating to Baseline. As confidence grows, they move to Highway 36 or Boulder Canyon.
“It’s a slow process but we build on those muscle memory skills,” said Cabot. “The nice part is that the traffic officer knows exactly what they are able to do and what they can’t do, so it’s a pretty seamless transition.”
The TopCops mission has great intentions, but just like any other driving school, there are flaws. Not all of the instructors are former cops, which students and parents sometimes perceived as false advertising. There are also other issues.
“All the cops were super lazy and didn’t care what I did and my guy made me stop by Starbucks during the lesson,” said TopCop graduate Elyana Steinberg.
Still, the consensus is that there is no great way to get your license and TopCops is one of the best courses in the area despite its flaws.
“It may not be the most fun, but it is better than the online alternative where you have no motivation to finish,” said current driver’s ed student Iris Branstetter.
“We’re not turning [students] into NASCAR champions. We just want them to be proficient in the basics of driving,” said Cabot.