When people hear of a life threatening job, they think of the military. And they would be right. But there is another person in every community whose days are fraught with peril and danger; a driver’s ED instructor. These people have the monumental task of teaching us teens, who are already so good at everything, about the art of personal locomotion. Every day, the students test what these men and women are made of. And this goes beyond the usual “No, that is the gas pedal, not the brake” scenario. In order to break the ice on our first day of Driver’s ED, the instructor told us some truly terrifying stories of students who had spun, sped, and performed almost every conceivable vehicular offense. “So,” he concluded, “don’t feel bad. It’s all been done before.” Very reassuring. It turns out he was full of good stories. He recounted how he once got into the passenger’s seat for a girl’s first drive to see tears of fear streaming down her face. If she was that nervous, I can’t imagine how he felt.
When I started learning how to drive, I imagined that I would get in the car for the first time, pull out into traffic, and dazzle the streets full of ho-hum drivers with the amazing expertise and grace of my maneuvers. Boy was I wrong. It’s not that I wrecked or anything, but somehow I wound up driving at illegal speeds. Later, the instructor had to keep me from pulling out in front of an oncoming semi. In my defense, I could have made it. It would have been tight, and probably given everyone else in the car a heart attack, but I could have made it.
However, compared to the incompetence some of my peers behind the wheel, I looked like Mario Andretti. One girl I was riding with was fine, when she was driving down a straight five lane road with no other cars on it. When we got to the twisties, however, it was all I could do to not scream and jump out the window at 45 mph. That probably would have been safer than riding in a car with her as a driver. Luckily, the Driver’s ED instructor was on his game. By grabbing the wheel every five seconds, whether to keep us from colliding with oncoming traffic or from careening off the road, he was able to get us all back to the school alive, albeit having aged several years since we’d left.
Another one of my friends was driving for the first time in the pouring rain (cue ominous music). After finishing his first stint on the highway, the instructor told him to get onto the next exit ramp. He did, only he was going 30 mph too fast. I guess he too was daydreaming about his future driving glory when they explained the part about the brake pedal. He spun and went backwards through a row of trees without hitting any of them. He calls it skill; I say beginner’s luck. The car was stuck, but with three teenagers on board, they were able to push it out of the mud and onto the road.
One day I asked the instructor if he was ever scared when his students do something stupid. His answer was a simple “Not really.” All I can say is this guy is either brave or foolish. Or both. So next time you pull up next to a driver’s ED instructor, roll down the window and thank them for their service to our country.