Pre-driver training lessons now available

Bob Newhart’s “The Driving Instructor” routine is a great comedy bit. Detailing an adult student named Mrs. Webb who takes a driving lesson from Newhart’s character, Frank Dexter, it goes something like this:

“How do you do, you are Mrs. Webb, is that right? Oh, I see you’ve had one lesson already. Who was the instructor on that, Mrs. Webb? I’m sorry, here it is: Mr. Adams . . . . And how fast were you going when Mr. Adams jumped from the car? 75 (mph)! And where was that? In your driveway!” 

I’m guessing Newhart’s understated delivery, punctuated by short, hysterical outbursts at Mrs. Webb’s performance behind the wheel, closely mirrors the plight of most driver education instructors. Imagine struggling to remain calm while trying to teach a skill in which the potential consequences are so dire.  

If you want to hear something every bit as funny as Newhart’s driving instructor bit, get a current or former driver education instructor talking about the experience. You’ll walk away convinced they deserve combat pay to help pay for when PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Dementia) sets in. PTSD is an especially unpleasant form of brain trauma characterized by sufferers repeatedly seeing their life pass before their eyes through the windshield of a car. 

Frank Dexter had it right when he asked Mrs. Webb, “What’s the first thing we are going to do before we pull out into traffic? Well, I mean besides praying . . . . ” I had the white-knuckled, closed-lip privilege of riding along during my stepson James’ driver education road test. Trapped for 30 minutes in the backseat of my own car through his abrupt accelerations, rolling stops and passing on the right, I fear I’ll someday end up with PTSD.

Driving is as American as out-of-wedlock births and texting (teens no longer relate to the “as American as baseball and apple pie” analogy). Except for the few who are appropriately afraid of the awesome responsibility and insurance rates involved in driving, most high school students can hardly wait to go out and wreck their first car.

Driver education was more of a formality in our family. Growing up on a farm, we’d all been driving everything from stick-shift pick-ups to tractors and combines since we were old enough to see over steering wheels. How hard is parallel parking when you can already back a 15-foot wagon into a barn after dark? The farm was our driving range (as was the school parking lot for our family friend, Mary Evert).

Where can non-farm kids get comparable experience? Well, my husband and I were eating at a Chinese restaurant in Chelsea on our way home from Detroit Metro Airport when we found an advertisement on our placemats for “PRE-DRIVERS EDUCATION.” Where? At the Waterloo Tree Farm, of course. I nearly choked on my egg roll. 

“No one wants his or her teen to start out driving in heavy traffic or have his or her life end in tragedy,” the ad read. “Introduce your teen to PRE-DRIVERS EDUCATION at Waterloo Tree Farm Driving Range. The benefits will make taking the Drivers Education Course more effective. Your teen will have the chance to develop driving skills on 80 acres of land with all different types of obstacles.” For any age with parent/guardian. 

Directly under that ad was a separate ad for Waterloo Tree Farm proper, which advertised landscaping and supplies (including rocks and boulders!), a petting zoo and LIVE BEARS. I don’t know about you, but boulder and live bear avoidance seems a bit overkill for beginning drivers. I’ve never hit anything much larger than a 175-pound deer. And I didn’t have to worry about it mauling me when I got out to check my car for damage.

Ray Vorraber should get a similar program started at Turtle Creek Golf Course. A golf cart is just like a car. Well, almost. Students could learn many important skills: How to drive without spilling their beer, how to avoid greasing bumpers with Canada geese (and pedestrians), plus water crash survival. Release some wolves and wild boars just to make it interesting. How ‘bout it Ray? The families of pre-drivers need your help.

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