Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: A Dangerous Job
Reading the article in the Capital Journal about the need for more driver training instructors brought to mind my daughter Jackie’s experience in driver training class. This may be why there is a shortage of instructors today: it is a dangerous job.
Jackie was anxious to learn how to drive. She wanted to be able to drive to her after-school job at Dairy Queen, and later join her sister in delivering pizzas. I had always told my kids they were going to drive for my convenience, not for their pleasure. I was anxious also to not have to chauffer Jackie to and from her job. We tried to prepare her for drivers training by going out in the country and letting her drive the pickup. We may have overdone it the first afternoon she drove. I was impressed with her ability to keep the big pickup from weaving back and forth across the gravel road, and she kept it at a slow, steady speed. I was so impressed I let myself enjoy the scenery, only occasionally checking on Jackie’s performance. It was such a nice afternoon, I “let” her drive all the way to Harrold, following the county roads by farms and fields. When we finally stopped in Harrold, Jackie collapsed, exhausted from herding that big pickup down the gravel roads. Her arms and shoulders were stiff and sore the next day from being so tense. We shortened up the driving lessons and moved to the minivan from then on.
Jackie breezed through the classroom part of drivers ed., but was nervous about the driving she would be doing under the watchful eye of her instructor. I assured her she would be fine, that it would be safe and a great learning experience. She didn’t act like she believed me. She may have had a premonition.
I wished her well that Monday morning, and told her to let me know how she did on her first drive. I went to work and forgot about Jackie. I was surprised to look up as my office door opened and Jackie came in, a look of disgust on her face. “How did it go?” I asked. “I had an accident!” she exclaimed. She went on in a matter-of-fact way to tell how she was driving in town, and was on a narrow curved street, when she saw a pickup coming towards her. Her instructor directed her to slow down, and move more to her right, giving the pickup more room to pass. Jackie noticed the driver of the pickup was fumbling with his visor and didn’t seem to see the drivers education car. Her instructor, now sounding concerned, told her to pull over as far as she could and stop. She stopped up against the curb and watched in horror as the pickup continued coming at her. When the pickup driver finally reacted and tried to avoid hitting Jackie, he scraped the rear fender of the driver training car. Jackie was upset, but not as much as her instructor was. He made sure everyone was safe, then as they were driving back to the school, lamented on this being his first accident as an instructor. Jackie was most upset by the attention this whole thing brought on her. Her first day of driving and involved in an accident!
A few weeks later, the same instructor had a student driver heading west in the outside lane on Sioux Avenue, not far from the curve leading to the bridge. A semi truck was on the inside lane, and apparently the drivers training car was low enough the truck driver couldn’t or didn’t see it alongside his trailer. He started to move into the outside lane, his trailer crowding then hitting the car, creasing it just below the roofline. A rear tire scuffed up the corner of the car’s bumper before the driver corrected his path. Again, no one was hurt, but the students and instructor were quite shaken up. Jackie wasn’t in the car, but she called me up to tell me that as a result of two accidents within a span of a few weeks, the instructor quit! I’m not saying that experiences like this are the cause of the shortage of driver training instructors, but when you think about it, being in a car full of teenagers that don’t know how to drive is a pretty dangerous place to be.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News