Dead end for Lowell Auto School

LOWELL — Some teenage learner drivers found themselves stranded after a local driving school suddenly closed in May, according to reports on community social media forums.

Families of would-be drivers are said to have been quick to transfer their partial hours of classroom and on-road instruction to other professional driving schools.

For nearly 40 years, 71-year-old Ronald Gallagher owned the family business Lowell Auto School, providing learner drivers with classroom and behind-the-wheel training.

In early May, however, Gallagher stopped responding to frantic phone calls and emails from parents about their students’ scheduled, paid driving sessions. The company’s website is offline and the company is “no longer in business” according to information from the Better Business Bureau.

In April 2020, Gallagher received a $20,000 loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, a US Small Business Administration-backed program that has helped businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID crisis. -19. The loan was canceled the following year, according to information compiled from federal databases.

Gallagher did not answer the door to his business office, located on Central Street just around the corner from the Motor Vehicle Register, and many emails and voicemails left for him were also not returned.

A reader provided The Sun with several screenshots of Facebook posts from local families with teenagers affected by the abrupt closing of the driving school. A parent’s message expressed anger that the school did not bring his son to his scheduled driving appointment at the Motor Vehicle Registry. Another family member expressed frustration that his learner driver had to be transferred to another school further from his home. None of the families, however, returned requests for additional comment.

Lowell Auto School, which is incorporated as Gallagher’s Auto School in the state database, listed Gallagher’s niece, Molly Silva, as the company’s executive and director at the time of the shutdown. school. Silva also owns Lawrence-based Berkeley Auto School. Although Silva has not returned numerous calls and emails for comment over the past week about his involvement with the now-defunct driving school, his attorney says Silva is no longer connected to the cases. of his uncle.

In a June 10 email to The Sun, attorney Bryan J. Kerman said, “Molly Silva is no longer a director or officer of Gallagher’s Auto School, Inc. Ms. Silva’s involvement as a director and officer was limited in time to the period from approximately April 22, 2022 to approximately June 9, 2022. Ms. Silva is not an employee or shareholder of Gallagher’s Auto School. I am advised that Berkeley Auto School, Inc. has no affiliation business of any kind with Gallagher’s Auto School.

Corporate documents filed with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office confirmed the dates provided by Kerman. It’s unclear why Silva joined and then left the company so quickly, after The Sun had already started contacting her.

The RMV lists more than 100 certified driving schools in Massachusetts, including several in the Chelmsford, Tyngsboro, and Wilmington area. Requirements to operate a driver instructor training course include the posting of a performance bond of between $10,000 and $50,000 against which customer claims may be lodged.

Driver education fees, which are set by the seller, can range from $600 to $900, depending on the level of instruction the student chooses. Businesses may charge deposit fees with full or installment payment options.

Here are tools to verify any of the state’s hundreds of certified driving schools:

  • Start by reading the fact sheet on RMV’s driver education programs.
  • Check out the company’s Better Business Bureau profile.
  • Ask to see the company’s professional driving school certification and licenses, or call the RMV Consumer Assistance Office at 857-368-8080.
  • Visit the places, meet the owners, the class and the driving instructors.
  • Check reviews online.

Following these steps does not guarantee that your experience will be trouble-free. If you lose money due to a driving school suddenly closing and the owner doesn’t respond, your options include:

Monica Sim, an instructor at Sim’s Driving School on Middlesex Street, said the school had agreed to transfer a student from Lowell Auto School to their scheme. But she said sudden closures “are bad for business, and you hate it happening to students.”

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