I was the youngest of four and watched each of my siblings go through the process of learning to drive. Getting a driver’s license is a symbolic rite of passage for most teens, but let me just say – I was not a normal teen. Being behind the wheel of a car terrified me.
I took driver’s education while in high school. It was offered after school and taught by one of our high school teachers. I do not remember much about the classroom sessions, but I remember well the time we had in the car. There were three students in the car and we each took turns driving. In thinking back, that drive time must not have been very long considering it was all after school and finished before sunset.
I remember one afternoon in particular. I was in the back seat and one of the other students was driving. All was going well and we were moving along in fairly heavy traffic as a large truck rushed passed us. Suddenly there was a loud THUD that shook us all. The young girl driving started to panic as our instructor urged her to pull off onto the breakdown lane. Once off the road, the instructor got out of the car to investigate. Apparently, just as that large truck rushed by us in traffic, the Student Driver sign had fallen flat on the top of the car. We would live to drive another day.
We lived in the suburbs outside of Akron, Ohio. I do not ever recall driving on the interstate in Driver’s Ed. The highway was packed with semi trucks hauling goods in and out of manufacturers like Goodyear Aerospace, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Firestone, BFGoodrich and General tire among other industries. Getting on and off the highway was challenging for a young driver.
Once I had my learner’s permit, I never pestered my parents to let me drive. Mom had to force me on the road. My mother got her driver’s license late in life and she was determined that would not be my fate. I can remember driving on the long roads through soybean fields when my mother would say “there’s a big truck coming around that curve”. There never was. She wanted me to always imagine that some unseen vehicle was just out of sight so I would always be prepared.
It was when she made me drive on the highway (I76 I think) that I was the most terrified. Traffic was so bad in those times I remember a series of roadsigns on the highway that read something like this:
PLEASE MOVE OVER
LET THEM IN
THEY ARE WAITING
WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN
I did learn to drive – even on the highway – but I did not get my license at that time. It was during this timeframe that my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Suddenly driving did not seem so important.