Saturday, January 3, 2015

Drivers Education at FDR

I think I took Drivers-Ed either the spring of my sophomore or fall of my junior year in high school; somewhere in 1967.  Along with typing and Humanities, it remains one of the three courses I took whose instruction has proven useful to me every day since high school.  

We were in a bright and shiny new school building and had bright and shiny new equipment.  We drove your basic 1967 Plymouth Fury, provided by the local dealership, whose name escapes me, but they where located on the corner of East Market and Rt 9.  We also had a driving simulator that kind of looked like a cross between a Ford and Plymouth with both a push button transmission and three on the tree (stick shift on the column).  I remember spending considerable time driving in the simulator, but more on that in just a bit.

The time in Drivers-Ed was interesting for a number of reasons; first and foremost it got me and two others out of school for an hour to drive around the roads of Hyde Park taking turns scaring the bejeezus out of the steely nerved instructor.  In my case I think it was usually Mr. King.  I don’t remember who my driving partners were because they were usually huddled on the floor in the back whimpering about wanting their mothers or something.  I’m not saying I was a bad driver, and I’m sure all four wheels were usually on the pavement.  I don’t recall ever being fully airborne, although I think I may have gone to zero G once or twice coming down South Cross Road trying to make it back at the end of the driving time.  In my defense, it couldn’t have been that bad, I don’t recall Mr. King actually using the extra brakes he had available, although I think I remember an armrest on the passenger door coming off.

Now about those driving simulators, I seem to remember the films we used were produced by Etna Insurance and were made in a suburban setting.  They had all kinds of hazards they were trying to teach you about without actually letting you kill anyone.  For example, I remember driving down the street and all the sudden a car door came open and you were supposed to swerve to avoid it and stop.  I think most of us in the class just took the door off, but obviously the film wouldn’t show that, just the clicking of the analogue computer in the back told you it was recording a failure.  We would stop the film and then discuss what had happened, what we were supposed to be looking for, and why it was poor form to take a parked car’s door off, even if the driver was stupid for opening it in front of you. 

One of the things that stuck with me about those films was how neat and tidy the neighborhoods were and how whitish the streets were.  In 1977 I discovered why.  That was when I reported to Hurlburt Field, (Eglin Auxiliary Field 9), Fort Walton Beach, FL for training on my new aircraft.  All the roads around here in NW Florida looked just like in the Drivers-Ed films.  Obviously the films were made in Florida where the streets where a mixture of asphalt and coral/sea shells that made them a whitish color and slicker than snot in the rain. Fortunately for me most of those roads have been replaced now with real asphalt or concrete, and drivers have lost that excuse for rear-ending other cars.

I don’t know how Drivers-Ed is handled in Hyde Park these days, but here in NW Florida I was amazed when my kids went through to see they never left the parking lot during the class.  They drive around some kind of maze knocking over cones just like Officer Laverne Hooks in Police Academy.  Only 10 percent of the students have to take road tests, so it is conceivable that the remaining neophytes get their license without ever leaving the parking lot, which should explain most of what you see if you drive around Florida.  Between the people who look through the steering wheel, and the kids being set loose on the public, defensive driving takes on a whole new meaning.

Stay safe, it’s a jungle out there!

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