We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

The view from inside a driving-school car

Strange things happen when you are an instructor in a driving school vehicle.

Last year, I pulled into the parking lot of a local golf course in order to pick up a student for a driving lesson, who was working as a groundskeeper. I was a little early for the lesson and parked in a conspicuous spot. A golfer ran up to the car and said he was glad to see me and that he really needed my advice. I thought he was about to ask a driving-related question.

Indeed, he did ask a very simple question: “How do I straighten out my terrible tendency to slice the ball off the tee?” He had approached the car from the side and did not see the student driver sign on the back of the car. He assumed that I was some sort of golf pro and would be able to teach him on the golf course driving range. My driving student was nowhere to be seen, and I decided to give him some advice. “Tee the ball a little higher, position it in the middle of your stance and take a bigger, slower backswing,” I said. He seemed pleased with the advice and went happily on his way in the direction of the driving range. I never saw him again.

On another occasion several years ago, my wife and I were travelling from Vancouver to Hope in the driving school vehicle, on our way to a convention. She was driving while I took a nap in the passenger seat.

Sure enough, the phone rang and I snapped out of my self-induced comatose state and answered it. The caller was somewhat irate and was complaining that an “idiot” instructor was sleeping, while a student driver was on a freeway driving lesson somewhere outside Chilliwack. I was very apologetic and explained the situation. The caller suggested that we might possibly get some blank magnetic sign coverings for the car on future trips. I agreed. My wife, on the other hand, had a big smile on her face and was very pleased to have been mistaken for a young teenage driver.

Some people just hate it when a driving school chooses to practise parallel parking on their car parked on the street. In 30 years I have never had a student hit a vehicle while parallel parking, nor have any of our instructors. Despite this fact, there are people who will set up sprinklers and even shovel snow and/or leaves behind their vehicle so as to make it impossible to practise any parking manoeuvre.

Paranoia seems to abound when driving school cars are in the neighbourhood. Vehicle insurance for a driving school vehicle is relatively inexpensive due to the low crash-claim rate of the industry. People who have driving-school cars in the neighbourhood get the benefit of an extra pair of eyes to report and prevent crime as well. Complaints about the driving behaviour of student drivers are relatively rare, but they certainly do happen. Some are very legitimate and are taken seriously; others are nothing short of vexatious. I was once phoned by a fellow who complained that the driving instructor was making the student practise U-turns. He maintained they were illegal, and was surprised to find they were a requirement on the driver’s test.

I have had drivers approach the driving school vehicle head-on, going the wrong way on a one-way street. One such fellow exited his car and asked what kind of a lousy instructor would let the learner go down the street on the wrong side of the road. Upon recognizing the one-way street, he became suitably apologetic.

The vast majority of drivers are accommodating to student drivers. Instructors appreciate the courtesy afforded to people of all ages who are learning to drive. Allowing more space is much appreciated by all driving instructors and learners alike.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School in Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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