Once upon a time you took a driver's ed course, passed all the necessary written and practical tests, and were handed a shiny (or in my case, blue cardboard) driver's license. It was your ticket to freedom, and for at least those first few years behind the wheel you felt like you had that whole 'driving thing' locked down. Your skills were top-notch – your judgment unquestionable – and your car control capabilities couldn't be matched.

Then, something happened. Maybe you had a frightening experience on the way home on rainy night that got you thinking about how you'd react if the same situation presented itself a second time. Or perhaps you decided it was time to get out on the track as more than just a spectator, but weren't sure exactly how to do that, or what to do once you were lined up on the starting grid. Truth be told, it could have been something as simple as having a daughter or a son who was about to start driving, and suddenly feeling the desire to arm them with as extensive a range of tools for dealing with the perils of the road as possible.

Whatever got you interested in learning to be a better driver, you'll be pleased to know that there exists got a wide range of options for improving your skills behind the wheel. Whether you want a taste of the track, need to send your teen for a bit of extra instruction, or even desire a little outdoor adventure without getting terribly, inextricably stuck, read on to see which Canadian driving school might be the best match for you this spring and summer.

Keeping It OEM

If you want to stick with the car company that 'brung ya' to the track in the first place, there are three solid Canadian driving school choices that are officially sanctioned by an OEM automaker. The first is the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, which is divided into several different curriculums, some of which focus on street-oriented skills (skid control, braking, etc), with others tackling on-track performance in the form of the Mastering Performance school as well as the AMG Driving Academy. Mercedes-Benz provides all of the vehicles for each of its learning programs, and it's available at eight cities across the country.

Audi offers a similar type of driving program for Canadians, with a bit more performance flair injected at each level of participation. Like Mercedes-Benz, the Audi Driving Experience is designed to help you hone your driving skills in every-day situations (using a slalom, a handling course, and braking exercises), but it also offers a 'hot lap' in the right-hand seat of an Audi R8 with a professional Audi instructor at the wheel. You can also swap places with the pro by way of the Audi Sportscar Experience, which takes you deeper into track territory.

If you're not really interested in tearing up the asphalt but would rather learn how to tread lightly when driving off-road while conquering mud pits and rock walls, then the Land Rover Off-Road Driving Experience is more your speed. Available year round, Land Rover's courses take place at the Chateau Montebello in Quebec, where 65,000 acres of off-road preserve are available to play with.

Taking It Private

Young Drivers keeps a compound with an intersection that starts and goes nowhere but takes drivers places they rarely think about.

Canada's geography makes it challenging to run a national driver education program, which is why there are far more private operations filling the gap than there are automaker-backed initiatives. This is especially true if you're interested in programs aimed at younger drivers, or are looking to train employees before setting them loose in your fleet operations.

Kart Start is a teen driving course that takes aim at kids who are actually several years away from hitting the streets for the first time. Using go-karts as a stand-in for full-size automobiles, Kart Start gives children as young as 12 the chance to start developing instincts that will keep them safe when their learner's permit eventually comes into view. The program is mobile and travels from one karting course to another across Canada.

The SafeRoads Skid Control School, on the other hand, is designed for professionals who need to bump up their confidence and driving capabilities. As you might have gathered from the name the emphasis is on safety rather than performance, but SafeRoads also works one-on-one with employees to deal with risky driving that they might encounter as part of their jobs.

Hitting the Track At Full Speed

Canada is blessed with some truly excellent race tracks with impressive heritage - particularly Le Circuit Mont Tremblant in Quebec and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Ontario, each of which has hosted the Formula 1 series amongst others. It's no surprise, then, that each of these facilities in their modern iteration plays host to some of the best full-on racing and high performance driving schools in the country.

The Bridgestone Racing Academy, located at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, offers a full range of open-wheel racing opportunities. You can choose to drive its Reynard and Van Diemen formula cars in half, one, and two-day increments, with professional instruction included, or you can opt for a full advanced driving curriculum aimed at getting you qualified for a professional racing license. At Mont Tremblant, a similar experience awaits you in the form of the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School, which makes use of formula cars alongside high performance lapping programs where you can pilot your own vehicle as part of advanced driver training.

You don't have to live near one of Canada's major tracks to enjoy professional instruction, either. Shannonville Motorsport Park in Ontario offers an advanced driving school of its own, and also serves as the home-base for Racing Adventures and its own driving programs. The AISA Race Academy is available for those living farther east, with on-track performance driving curriculums available at the Autodrome St-Eustache near Montreal and Ottawa's closest track, Calabogie.

Grassroots Clubs

Despite all the animal-inspired model names, a car is not some wild, untamed beast – it is a machine that's been engineered and assembled with care. Your first time behind the wheel should not in any way, shape or form resemble the rodeo at the Calgary Stampede. That being said, certain vehicles do provide a gentler introduction to the world of motoring bliss. So, what qualifies as an <i>ideal</i> beginner's car and what doesn't? Read on and find out!

One final avenue for finding a driving school near you is to check out a grassroots club. This might be an organization that's focused on a single manufacturer, or one that exists solely to have fun on the track and teach its members how to become better drivers in the process. The BMW Clubs of Canada are a perfect example, as they operate not just Advanced Driving Schools with a focus on high performance skills, but they also partner with Tire Rack in the Street Survival School program, which is intended to offer teens additional instruction past what their basic driver's education has to offer.

 No Shortage of Choice

However you decide to do it, you should know that there's really no wrong way to improve your own driving skills. With programs designed to last an entire weekend or just one afternoon, you can pick and choose how in-depth you want to get when starting down the path towards high performance instruction. One thing's for sure: adding any type of advanced driver training to your life will help you not just beat the clock on your local race track, but also help keep you safe in an emergency situation out on the open road. It's a worthwhile investment to make in both you and your family's safety – and one that happens to be a lot of fun, too.