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On Learning to Drive, Part I

Car driver

    Photo by Peter Fazekas from Pexels

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.

35 thoughts on “On Learning to Drive, Part I”

  1. It was a rite of passage for us. It seems less so today. I’ve known a lot of kids who have waited until they were 18 or older.

    We could use one of those signs today.

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      1. Our daughter could – not – wait. I have a picture of her on her first tricycle and we’ve always said the her expression is one of “I’ve got wheels!”

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        1. Some children are just like that, Dan. My siblings definitely wanted those keys to the car. I was content to be chauffeured around – I must have missed my call to fame and fortune.

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  2. My dad bought me a used car almost a year before I could drive legally. He used the time to show me how to do things like change a fanbelt, change the wheel if I had a puncture, and other routine things that you had to know at a time when cars were far less reliable.

    I started driving lessons in a school car just days after my 17th birthday, and had a also friend with a licence sit next to me to after school, I could legally drive my own car at long last. (We have Learner’ plates back and front here.)

    After twelve weeks of one-hour lessons, paid for by my mum, I failed my first driving test because I hit a kerb when reversing.

    Two weeks later, I had a retest, and passed. I celebrated by driving into Central London on my own that same afternoon, tackling the notorious blackspots like Hyde Park Corner on that ‘first day’.

    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Interesting story, Pete. I am not sure about the reference to Hyde Park Corner – tell me more.My brother failed his first test, too, because he did not put on the signal when pulling away from the curb. During the pandemic, several states waived the need for a road test. I cannot imagine that.

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    1. Upon moving to a new area, it used to be my practice to simply get i. The car and drive without maps for the day. Eventually I learned my way around. I rely too much on GPS these days.

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  3. It must be very difficult to have your mother’s diagnosis so entwined with the learner driver period. I can certainly see why the driving paled into insignificance in the face of that at such a young age.

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  4. Maggie, thank you for sharing your learning experience with us. My dad drove an old pickup truck with a standard transmission. He thought, when it was time for me to learn to drive, I should be challenged with the hardest situation possible. He stopped the old truck as we were heading up a steep hill (gravel road). He turned the steering wheel over to me and told me to re-start the truck and get us up the hill. Oh the panic! Trying to shift, operate the clutch, and keep us from rolling backward down that hill were more than I could handle!

    Dad didn’t believe in learning the basics and working up to difficult situations!

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    1. That did seem to be the way for some Dads. I was fortunate we did not have a standard manual shift. I still cannot drive one. I would have failed miserably under your father’s tutelage.

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    1. Thank you, Alexis. It was a tough time. I think a lot more people wait now to get their license. It was too much the beacon of teenage freedom back in the day.

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          1. Even my age group doesn’t really trust Uber. One time in ATL, a lady came running into the building because she saw a leg sticking out of a garbage bag when she grabbed her suitcase from the trunk. The guy forgot she had her suitcase in there and she made it to the back before he did. 😯

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          2. Ugh, what a horrible experience. That would put me off from ever taking Uber again and definitely reinforces why I need my own car!

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          3. Uber and Lyft are trying to step up the security, but you just never know…… That said, I took Uber and Lyft cabs almost exclusively from around 2016 to 2018, when I bought my car. I’ve had rude drivers, but none ever tried anything inappropriate.

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  5. My 14 year old granddaughter can’t wait to drive. As for me, it took me forever. Everything was stick shift and I just could not stop and go again on a hill.

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