Driver’s Education and Other Nostalgic Sentiments

Among the many wise things that George Carlin said, one of my favorites is: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

I realize that rants about bad drivers run second only to rants about technology in the pantheon of prosaic blog topics, but that isn’t going to stop me. As I was out driving the other night, I was struck (figuratively, not literally) by the sight of a big BMW in front of me. As I came up behind it, the driver was first driving slowly, then weaving left without a signal about halfway into my lane, and then – again without a signal – crossed two lanes of traffic to turn right.

My only thought was, who the heck taught this person to drive?

Admittedly, working from home means that I drive fairly infrequently. So when I do, I really notice bizarre behavior. I have to say, though, that California, for all the horror stories, is not the worst I’ve ever encountered. The drivers here are just rude. Other places, they’re downright unsafe. The one time I drove in downstate New York, for instance, I was astonished to learn that drivers there consider the lines painted on the road simply as décor; if it’s asphalt, it’s fair game to drive on.

Being childless, I had only a passing sense that schools had axed driver education and driver training courses years ago. An article in USA Today last year confirmed the damage: it quoted the CEO of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, Allen Robinson, estimating that “about 15% of eligible students take high school driver’s ed compared with 95% in the 1970s.”

When I asked my FWTs (friends with teenagers), I learned that most of them pay several hundred dollars a shot to private companies for their kids’ driver training. But that left me wondering what people who don’t want to spend that kind of money do. I realized those people probably teach their kids themselves.

This conjures a scary prospect: a generation of people who weren’t taught to drive properly in the first place is now teaching the next generation.

As for me, I was so nervous about learning how to drive that my driver’s education and driver’s training courses are among my most vivid high school memories. My driver’s ed teacher was a no-nonsense Japanese man named Peter Ida, whose syllabus included all the traditional 16mm films of gore and morons (see graphic). But there was one particular film that Mr. Ida advised us to partially ignore. It was filmed in a convertible with the camera positioned behind the right shoulder of a driver’s ed teacher (using the term loosely), who talked almost non-stop. The first problem was that he simply could not refrain from honking the horn to alert other drivers to his presence. Mr. Ida moaned, “If everyone honked as much as this guy, the roads would be deafening.” He also pointed out to us a moment in the film when a pedestrian is waiting at a crosswalk and the guy sails through the intersection without slowing down.

One of the physical education coaches, Steve Truesdell, was my driver’s training teacher in the summer of 1971. I still hear Mr. Truesdell’s words in my head today about checking my mirror, turning my head, and maintaining car lengths (though the last one I usually ignore). He was a man of infinite patience, and the world is a less-safe place now that he’s no longer in the right-hand seat.

My late mother (from whom I inherited the cranky gene) always used to say, “The way people drive, I’m amazed there aren’t more accidents.” I second that, but it also tests my contention that the elimination of driver’s ed in the public schools is causing the problem.

More likely, it’s the continued widespread dissemination of idiots and maniacs.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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9 Responses to Driver’s Education and Other Nostalgic Sentiments

  1. Judit Sarossy says:

    Compare to Europeans I think drivers are more polite and patient here, but I agree many people really don’t have great driving skills. Probably one reason is that the kids don’t learn to drive, the other might be that they are many maniacs here from Europe and they are very inpatient with the “idiots”. I am sure they are some idiots from Europe too, but mostly maniacs. 🙂 P.S. George Carlin was one of my favorite too.

  2. Sabrina says:

    The cell phones: you forgot the cell phone issue! These days when someone is driving stupidly I can generally see them holding a cell phone or moving their head and waving their hands in a way that says they are on the phone. I hate getting behind the 20 mph below the speed limit guy who is veering across the lines: can’t pass safely. And then there is the potential moral dilemna: if he gets in a one car crash, do I stop to help or just shake my head and move on?

    My driver’s ed instructor, Mr. Laconi, read the paper while we took turns driving. One of my classmates tended to drive in the ditch (you think I’m kidding, don’t you?) and when our screams from the back seat finally disturbed him enough, he would drop the paper, say “get back on the road” and go back to the sports section.

    • When we’re in a forgiving mood, my wife and I just shake our heads at people like that and say, “They’re on their way to visit their sick grandmother in the hospital, and the doctor is on the phone urging them to get there as fast as they can.”

      • Sabrina says:

        I may have to post that reminder on the dashboard: a much kinder thought than the ones usually running through my head at those times.

  3. Miles says:

    If driving in NY caused thee concern, I suggest ye not brave the drivers in MA.

    Here’s a rather humorous, yet truth-beckoning, breakdown…
    http://www.amherstbulletin.com/story/id/103376/

    • Oh, yes. The first time I drove from Logan into the city, the tunnel was so congested I thought my car would be crushed from both sides. But then I started working for a company based in Framingham, so I at least knew how to get on the Turnpike, out to Framingham, and back. I also found that I would usually get lost in the same places, so it was easier to find my way the second time!

  4. Tom Guenther says:

    I just visited N.Y. City for the first time. A picture I took of 5th Ave., looking down from the Empire State building, had 16 cars and 18 cabs. That’s the scary part to me – the cabbies exhibit all of the driving traits you described, and then some – not only are lines on the road mere recommendations, but often so are stop signals, and even the line between the asphalt and sidewalk. Mr. Ida is one of the high school teachers I remember best. I had warnings about his movies, since even my brother Steve (Gunn ’69) had him for Driver’s Ed. I still have the green slip he signed when I was a softmore, in Dec. 1969, showing that I passed.

  5. Karen Davick says:

    I too had Peter Ida in 1969 as a driver’s Ed instructor and still think of him and all of his stories. The coach that this author speaks about was my driving instructor. My driving partner was on the football team. One of his ‘pass/fail’ tests was to tell him the score of the game the day before. I failed. 1969 fairness.

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