Prompt Me! “Driver’s Education” from Sharon Lauderdale Sloan

Sharon Lauderdale Sloan April 14–Driver’s Education

I took Driver’s Education back in the late 60s, from Mr. Horman. The class was in its infancy for our little community in Montana. The motivating factor was that if a new driver had gone through Driver’s Ed, they could get a license a year earlier than not. That got me motivated.

I also drove myself to and from Driver’s Ed—yep, I didn’t have a license yet, but drove myself to the class anyway. It was held in the summer, when everyone on the farm was busy, so my dad just let me drive the Rambler Marlin–the car for us kids. Mr. Horman just looked the other way. He knew that farm kids started driving about when their feet could touch the pedals, so I was not so much more truant than my farm friends.

My kids all took Driver’s Ed. They went through the class in the early 2000s and it cost about $250/kid, maybe more. I thought what they got out of the class was great—I don’t know what they did in there, but all three of my kids came out with a more than healthy respect for what an automobile can do. And I’m not talking about picking up girls, or that fabulous feeling of independence that comes from being able to get from point A to point B without a parent driving you there.  I’m talking about the fear of dying or the equally scary thought of killing someone in a crash.

But the real education came from the behind the wheel practice. That’s when I realized an automobile is a powerful death machine.

We live in a big city, very different from my Montana childhood, where there are more cattle than people. My kids had to practice driving on city streets, freeways, and high school parking lots. We learned a lot about each other learning and teaching how to drive. The first thing we learned is that their dad was not going to be the one risking his life in the death trap as they learned to drive; and the second thing was that they hated their mom for making them learn to drive  a stick shift.

I only had to rescue one kid when she stopped on the up side of a hill, and couldn’t get that darn manual transmission to engage without killing the engine.

I remember riding shotgun, hanging onto the door handle, my feet pressing the floorboard praying that would transfer to the driver’s brake pedal. I held my breath a few times as we rounded corners, or merged into the freeway.  I tried to speak in a calm voice when inside my head I would be screaming,  “Look out for your blind spot!” or “There’s a car tailing you, move over.”  Or the famous, “Don’t follow so closely. One car length per ten miles per hour!”

We had an elaborate contract with each kid after they got their licenses—something about number of kids they could haul around, getting grounded, driving as a privilege. It was such a complicated contract even I don’t remember all the clauses. But it must have worked, because they seemed to know the exact day they could add a friend to the passenger restriction, and their grades stayed within acceptable range.

We’ve had our fair share of fender benders, and that feared call in the middle of the night. We were in Italy when one kid ran into a chunk of snow/ice and cracked the plastic bumper. It was a very old car, the kid was OK, and it was Minnesota where ice chunks can happen, so all was well in the end.

As I sit writing this, I am looking at our cars—a cute little sports car for me, a big honking truck for my husband. I think of how important our cars are to us Americans, and how driving is right up there with being able to own a handgun.  Don’t you even think about taking my car away from me. It ain’t gonna happen.

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