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FLASHBACK: Whatever happened to drivers ed? - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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FLASHBACK: Whatever happened to drivers ed?

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Posted: Sunday, October 6, 2013 6:15 am

As the roads in the Permian Basin get overrun with 18-wheelers and white double-cab pickups, driving in these parts becomes more hazardous every day. And with the frightening state of driving in Odessa, everyone needs to be on alert, because how much training have they all had?

I recently spoke to a couple of Odessa seniors who don’t drive because they are too scared. Frankly, I don’t blame them.

Back in the day when we turned sweet 16, driving did not seem like such a hazardous undertaking in Odessa, especially when they had drivers ed at school.  We took drivers ed for half a day once or twice a week at Permian. We went in to a portable classroom that was outfitted with simulators and

The other half of the time we were in the car with the instructor, who by the way had the patience of Job or was heavily medicated.

Thinking back, I always felt sorry the driving instructor, who was usually a coach or a history teacher trying to make a little extra cash by teaching us how to drive. In those days, the school district provided the service along with the car that had two steering wheels and a second brake pedal on the passenger side.

And finally after six weeks or so, and with passage of the written test, you earned the privilege of taking the field test with none other than a Department of Public Safety trooper.

Last week, as my birthday gladly came and went, I was reminded of that day 30-something years ago when I took the test.

My friends all pitched in the day I went for the test — one of them let me drive her mother’s car to take it. And a big, burly state trooper climbed in to the Mercury Montego, with his shiny badge and boots and ordered me to place the car in drive and take off. That alone is enough to make a terrified 16-year-old even more terrified. Everyone went the second they turned 16.

I didn’t do that great on the test – I passed with a 70 – and of course it was the parallel parking that got me. Alas, and much to my dad’s chagrin, I got a license, which I proclaimed to my mom when I got home from the test.

“Go to the store for me,” she said, and I happily grabbed the keys and went to pick up some groceries.

But today, kids are driving everywhere armed with cell phones and all kinds of other electronic distractions.

And these days, getting driver’s ed for your kiddo is no easy task. As most parents know, driver’s ed hasn’t been offered by public schools in Odessa for a long time and the Morris Shaw School of Driving closed.  It has been offered by Odessa College in the past.

The other option is to pick up a packet at the DPS and teach your child how to drive. I know some parents have successfully done this — more power to you because you’ve got to have mega patience to teach your own kid how to drive. 

And then, it is optional whether your child takes the driving test in the car. You have to pay for it and I did, happily.

In Brownwood, we had no choice when my daughters came of driving age. So it was the packet or nothing. According to the DPS, the parent or guardian must be present for 20 hours of instruction. Do you know how long that really is? Come on now. With 20 hours in the car with a teenager behind the wheel, I white-knuckled the entire course.

We muddled through, but I can sure see how someone could fudge on the driving logs, showing the kid had more training or drive time than he or she actually had.

Around here, most of that 20 hours needs to be spent teaching kids how to navigate around 18-wheelers, which are taking over the roads. And another good portion of the course needs to be spent teaching them to get “undistracted” by cell phones and everything else.

Remember, my friends, safety doesn’t happen by accident.

And in the words of comedian Dudley Moore, “the best car safety device is a rear view mirror with a cop in it.”

You know, he may be right.

Portions of this column were reprised from previous column.

Odessa, TX

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