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Navigating driver ed: Back to school proves nerve-wracking

Staff writer

While most students are enjoying the first couple of weeks of summer vacation sleeping in and trading classroom time for hanging out with friends, those enrolled in this year’s driver’s education courses are already back in school.

“It’s nerve-wracking, and everyone in the car is watching you,” Marion student Sydney Williams said. “You’re trying not to hit the curb or any other cars.”

Marion student drivers began classes this week, venturing out onto the streets with an infamous yellow “student driver” sticker plastered to the side of the district’s white Chevrolet Uplander minivan.

Peabody-Burns Jr. Sr. High School began driver education classes the day after the school year ended.

Sydney has previous driving experience, but there still are difficult aspects of driver education.

After driving for the first time Tuesday with instructor Doug Vogel, there was one incident that stood out.

“Well, I really didn’t listen to my instructor and almost got hit by a semi,” she said.

Vogel offered reassurance.

“Actually, the semi wanted her to hurry up,” he said.

Peabody-Burns teacher Brian Simmonds showed students fabled videos that represent the consequences of bad decisions behind the wheel. One depicts scenes of serious car accidents and following repercussions.

“They were a little disturbing,” student Logan Webster said.

“That’s the whole purpose,” Simmonds responded. “My biggest fear is that you don’t pay attention on the road and I have to go to your funeral.”

Student Sarah Spencer agreed that the videos had an impact on her.

“I think I’m going to be really careful when I’m driving, so I don’t hurt others or myself,” she said. “When I had my turn driving I just tried not to crash, and fortunately, I’m still here.”

Students in both districts pair off in groups of two or three and take turns with their portion of driving.

“Half the time you’re the first driver and the other half you’re second,” Sarah said. “It’s a lot easier to be the second driver because you’ve already seen what’s going to happen on the drive.”

Both Sydney and fellow Marion student Madison Ruck agreed they were looking forward to the independence of eventually being able to drive by themselves.

“I feel like I’ll be able to do way more stuff,” Madison said.

Sydney has jobs baby-sitting and at the Historic Elgin Hotel, and will be grateful when she can drive to work.

Young drivers have to complete various requirements before ever getting behind the wheel.

“They have to pass a handbook test in order to drive,” said Simmonds, who teaches math and coaches track during the school year.

Marion’s instructor, retired counselor and special education teacher Doug Vogel, said the obstacles didn’t end there.

“They have to have their learner’s permit one full year before getting their restricted,” he said.

Learner’s permits allow students to practice as long as they are accompanied by an adult 21 or older who has a valid driver’s license. Restricted licenses then allow for driving between 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. to authorized school activities.

“People on the road see the driver’s education sign on the side of the van and automatically assume they’re bad drivers so they don’t want to be around us,” Simmonds said. “So they do things that they might not normally do.

“One time a student backed out and hit a mailbox. It completely broke out the tail light, but that’s part of learning. I have the brake on my side and good insurance.

Marion student Lane Watkins’ love for speed may have tested the limits of Simmonds’ insurance, however.

“I just wish I had more power,” he said. “I don’t like the minivan.”

Last modified June 7, 2018

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