Iowa DOT: Driving instructor identified, can no longer educate behind-the-wheel

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - A driving instructor has been barred from teaching student drivers behind the wheel. This comes after an I9 investigation into a video showed the instructor encouraging a student to drive recklessly from Open Road Driving School.

Staff with the Iowa Department of Transportation said it is still uncertain if, or what, the results of their investigation will further conclude, but did tell TV9 they are finalizing their investigation into the drivers education program.

"We are finalizing the investigation into Open Road Driving School," said Melissa Spiegel, the Director of the Motor Vehicle Division for the Iowa DOT. "As part of the investigation, we immediately identified the instructor as Ryan Turner and withdrew his his approval to provide behind-the-wheel instruction. The reason being what was demonstrated in the video is counter to what we would expect from any driver education instructor."

Ryan Turner is listed as the Secretary for Open Road Driving School, according to the Iowa Secretary of State.

Prior to the original I9 report in June, TV9 asked both Ryan Turner and Jenny Turner, who is listed as the President and Treasurer of Open Road Driving School to identify the driver in the video. TV9 did not receive a response from either Ryan Turner or Jenny Turner upon request.

In the video that sparked the investigation, Turner tells a student to "go faster" to catch up to a car in front of them, in which the student driver runs a red light in the process. Turner then confronted the driver of another vehicle.

""Go, go, go- you're going, and then get behind them, left lane," Turner said.

Turner then confronted the driver of the other car.

"What kind of person flips off a drivers-ed car?" Turner said. "A student learning how to drive. For real?"

"Learn how to stay in your own lane," the driver in the other vehicle responded.

"There's this giant thing in the back that says 'student driver,'" Turner said while both were stopped at a red light. "But no, you're a real big man flipping off a 14-year-old."

Rep. Jarad Klein, a Republican in the Iowa House of Representatives who serves as Chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, said the most important thing was to "allow the process to work" before addressing any potential changes in how educators are hired.

"He's not teaching anymore," Rep. Klein said, who represents House District 78 in Washington County. "That was the most important first step and they're doing their investigative process to make sure there isn't anyone else doing something wrong, and to make sure that everybody else that's been doing right, has known they're doing it right. Because there are people that have taken this school and have had good results."

Rep. Klein says in some ways the system is working, but is not ruling out potentially putting more in place next legislative session to make sure educators are teaching good habits behind the wheel.

"Going forward, we'll be very diligent to make sure that there's enough checks in place to make sure the people that are teaching our children to drive are doing is safely and correctly," Rep. Klein said. "But right now, we do have a very vigorous system, but just like other times, there's always people that cause trouble that can get in- bad actors, so to speak, that you have to address and get rid of."

The Iowa Association of Safety Education also reached out to TV9, saying the video raises serious concerns about how students are being taught at Open Road Driving School.

"The school should be suspended pending the re-certification of all its instructors on proper training technique," said IASE Board President Andy Nelson in a statement to TV9. "All curriculum should be certified and approved by DOT, the Dept of Education and oversights by the IASE Board."

"This school has left a black mark on all other driver's ed schools and for those of us providing the education the correct way, we feel a stiffer penalty is warranted," Nelson said.

Both the Iowa DOT and the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners are conducting their own investigations, but the status of the BOEE investigation is uncertain. TV9 reached out to the BOEE, but had not heard back prior to airing.

TV9 left messages for Ryan Turner and Jenny Turner asking for comment, but they did not respond.