Dear Driver’s Education Instructors:
It’s been a long time since I first sat behind the wheel and sallied forth in Sally (I named my first car “Sally” for reasons best left parked in history). A lot has changed since then.
Motor vehicle operators in this country have all gone crazy.
I know I can’t hold you solely responsible for all the actions of America’s drivers, but if we’re to get through this humor column, you must take part of the blame.
Let’s look at some of the driver’s education topics covered in the classroom and in-vehicle sessions, and see if we can find where things have gone wrong:
OPERATING A VEHICLE: This may be the heart of the problem.
Everything now is automatic—doors, windows, seat belts, lights, mirrors, trunks—and no keys, no cranks, no handles. How am I supposed to tear open my bag of Cheez-Its without a car key?
What about jumpstarts? There was no better way to meet strangers, when several of them would stop to help you shove your clunker just enough to coast it back to life. And, you couldn’t beat jumpstarting as the easiest way to run over yourself --- yet another fine character-builder lost to progress.
How about ignitions? Cars should not start by pushing a button. Cars should start when you turn a key, and with another sub-zero winter upon us in this neck of the woods, they should not start when you turn a key.
(Nostalgic humorist’s digression: I remember using a rotary phone, inserting a finger into a numbered dialplate, spinning it, and repeating the process. There was a circuitous, physical search and the tactile beauty of a spring-loaded backspin. It took time. It took some effort and deliberation. Life was a slow-tracking, soft-clicking whirling wheel of anticipation and measured symmetry. Sigh.)
Today we have skid-control, satellite tracking and navigation systems, which have removed the fun & disciplines of knowing when not to apply the brakes, how to fix our own flat tires, and the origami skills needed to accordion-fold a road map and figure out how we didn’t arrive where we aren’t.
And I don’t need or want my car talking to me, especially in a human voice. If I can’t avoid this with the automobiles of today, then I want to choose the voice (Eeyore will do nicely), and I want it interactive, joining me in my futility:
“End of the road approaching, Elwin. No hope of getting where you’re going.”
“Then, should I turn right now?”
“You could turn right here left, or turn right here right. It doesn’t matter. You’re lost.”
I would love this, because I’ve had some of my best motoring adventures when I didn’t have a clue where I was, where I was going, and I couldn’t be globally positioned from space.
And I still pine for those heady beep-less days, when my car didn’t make an audible alarm if I didn’t shut the door or buckle-up or turn off my lights or remove the key that I no longer needed.
SAFE DRIVING HABITS: You’re charged with helping our young drivers to form driving behaviors that will keep them and the rest of us safe on the road.
I can’t believe that this instruction includes how to signal right while turning left. Or, signaling and not turning. Or, turning and not signaling. Or, not signaling, not turning, but just stopping suddenly to look at a moose.
Or, as I’ve noticed lately on the interstate, to always drive like your car’s on fire and the only way to extinguish the flames is to go whizzing by me like I was going the other way.
Please, work on it. There are too many of your graduates out here who apparently slept through the turn & burn classes.
TRAFFIC LAWS AND VIOLATIONS: This is a real challenge, because not all driving landscapes are alike, and the rules of the road must be adjusted accordingly. We all know about the Massachusetts law that prohibits you from driving with a gorilla in the back seat, but I’ve just learned that it’s illegal in New York to disrobe in a car, and in Florida, if you leave your elephant parked on the street, you must still feed the meter.
I beg you to include these in your lesson plans, and teach your students how to lawfully curb a pachyderm and keep their pet gorillas fully-clothed up front where they belong.
Yesterday, I saw a sign on one of your driver’s ed vehicles: “Student drivers make mistakes. Please leave us a little room.”
As a driver now automatically shifting to manual, I’m hoping it’s a room with a better view.
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