I don’t know about you, but my Driver’s Ed lessons—held during one semester during my sophomore year of high school—were basic and straightforward. We went over all the lights and signs and what they meant and maaaybe some bad weather advice. That was it. This old Driver’s Ed textbook, Tomorrow’s Drivers, goes above and beyond in terms of preparing new drivers for the road. And as you might expect, it’s also joyfully anachronistic.
Tomorrow’s Drivers was copyrighted in 1967 by publishing house Lyons and Carnahan, Inc., which doesn’t appear to exist anymore. When you open it, the familiar, musty library smell of old paper and glue hits your nose. I recently acquired it and decided to share its contents with you, the internet.
There are 15 chapters in the book, and the first eight don’t even put you on the road. “Maneuvering the Automobile” doesn’t happen until Chapter Nine. Nine!
Chapters one through eight deal with topics like car history, legal responsibilities, physics, attitudes and how a car works. These are by far the most interesting.
For example, Chapter Three: “Natural Laws and Driving” starts off with, “To qualify for an operator’s license and keep it you must drive responsibly and safely. To do this, you will have to know and obey and laws of man and of nature.”
And then there’s this insane paragraph:
The padded dash and sun visor and the recessed steering wheel have reduced the number and seriousness of injuries in minor accidents. However, the best protection of the occupants is afforded by using seatbelts or shoulder harnesses, because these overcome the effect of inertia and prevent the body from being catapulted forward like a cannonball against the back of the front seat or against the dash, steering wheel, windshield or another part of the car.
Padded dashboards! That’s what used to pass for car safety. And truly, I am digging the “cannonball” imagery.
Airbags weren’t made mandatory in all cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. by the Feds until 1998, but it’s not like metal was any softer in the 1960s. And I’d like to see a sun visor save somebody’s life in a minor accident.
And speaking of seatbelts, this might be one of the last places that isn’t a modern-day commercial airplane where they teach you how to use a seatbelt.
I also especially love Chapter Five, titled, “Attitudes of the Driver.” Because having a shitty attitude can actually make you dangerous on the road! Seems like common sense, but I don’t remember reading that when I was in Driver’s Ed. In case you needed some examples, the “Immature driving attitudes” section of the chapter has your back:
Psychologists tell us that people may grow up physically and mentally, but remain childish emotionally. Many poor attitudes are merely childish ways of acting. It is “childish” to race up to a stop sign or to take a corner on two wheels.
I feel like there’s a line somewhere between approaching a stop sign quickly and cornering on two wheels that crosses into the “stunt driver” territory, but I could be wrong.
The book goes on, issuing low-key burns like a sparking electrical outlet:
The competitive driver. Some drivers constantly feel the urge to compete with other drivers. They are usually unsuccessful in other activities, such as studies, sports or social affairs and are looking some way—any way—to compensate for failure in these other activities... These drivers use a car to make themselves feel important.
Basically, these are the social fuckups. Avoid them, don’t be like them.
The show-off. This driver “shows off” as a means of gaining attention. He has a constant need to impress others or to brag about how much he can get away with because he is usually a person who has not gained attention by achieving success in his daily activities at home, school, work, or play... He honks his horn when he is delayed in traffic; he weaves in and out of traffic lanes and endangers other drivers.
So, circling back to how this chapter opened, the only logical conclusion I can draw here, after the usage of highly gendered language and all, is that overcompensating man-babies shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car. It’s 2017 and that much hasn’t changed.
The robot. Today we live in a world of automation (Ed. note: LOOOOOOL). There are machines that can perform many jobs that a man can do. But as long as a man sits behind the wheel of a car and is responsible for the performance of the car, there is no place for automatic driving. Most of the manual operation of an automobile becomes so familiar to a driver that he performs them without much thought... Although they usually obey traffic laws, they do not anticipate hazards and do not adjust their position in traffic intelligently.
Oh, man: if only the authors could see us now. Self-driving cars are the next big thing and there’s a race to see who can pull it off perfectly first. The author could have simply said, “Hey, stay alert at the wheel.”
But instead, they open with an almost defensive take on the automated landscape—as if insecure that we’ll all be replaced by The Machines soon. It’s really not that different from the bleating you hear from the anti-autonomous car crowd. Also, “a man.”
A few lessons in the book actually echoed the things they taught us at the V Performance Academy driving school.
On turning, the book recommends slowing down before the curve and maintaining a steady speed. Gradual acceleration should happen out of the curve. No shit!
And the part about seeing is probably one of the most important lessons for a new driver. “Get the big picture,” the book reads:
In order to get the big picture, visually scan a wide, deep roadway scene. Your eyes should sweep over a full block in the city and up to half mile ahead on the highway. Always include the sides and rear in the “big picture.” Don’t allow central vision to stay on an object more than a couple of seconds, unless your judgment tells you to watch something for possible danger. Even then, avoid staring.
Too many drivers get tunnel vision when driving and this is an excellent reminder not to do that. Awareness is key; it was true in 1967 and it’s just as true now. Seeing far will alert you of things happening up ahead so you have more time to react and gives the people driving around you more time to react as well.
Fifty years have passed since Tomorrow’s Drivers was published. In that time, airbags became a requirement, NHTSA started crash testing cars and making the results public, New York enacted the first seatbelt use law and other states followed. But, for some reason, driving lessons in 1967 seemed more thorough than they are now. Why is that?
Maybe it has something to do with taking all the safety features cars are now equipped with for granted. Maybe cars have become so safe that it’s not necessary anymore for people to learn what they did 50 years ago. I’m not sure I agree with that.
Knowing how to respond in any situation, even if it only happens once, can make all the difference.