To most people, driver’s ed was a time back in high school where you sat in a strangely dingy room and listened to the world’s oldest person tell you what a stop sign was. But the world of driver education goes far beyond that simple course — instructional track days, motorcycle courses, even just hopping behind the wheel of your parents’ car long before you’re of driving age all count. Yesterday, we asked for your worst stories from any of these, and boy did you have answers. Here are a few of the best.
The Fujiwara Method
I never had formal classroom driver’s education, but my father owned a car lot and wanted to teach me how to drive. So I had access to all sorts of cars to practice on.
We started out with large cars since Dad’s theory is if you can master piloting a boat, the small cars will come along naturally. This was around 1985 and we had an early 80s Crown Victoria on the lot. We went for my inaugural drive and I promptly ran over a bush backing out of the driveway. No harm to car or bush. My ego was a bit bruised and I was gunshy.
We then got on the road (a small residential street) and I hadn’t figured out where the corners of the car were. As oncoming traffic came along, I nervously pulled over to the shoulder and waited for them to pass.
After doing that 3 or 4 times, Dad said, “We’ll never get anywhere if you pull over for every car. You’re doing fine and I won’t let you wander into their lane.” It got better from there and in a day or two I could drive nearly-normally.
Then it was time to drive a stick. We had a 280Z 5-speed. I had seen other drive sticks for years, so kind of knew the motions. This was Central Florida, so the terrain was pretty flat. I got my rhythm pretty quickly. Dad was impressed, so he said, head west on this road for a bit. And that’s where we came to an intersection that stopped sloping upward, probably 5% or so. I was stopped at a red light and it was pretty steep, especially for Florida.
Dad took out a glass and a flask and FILLED the glass with scotch, pretty much to the brim. I was already nervous about stalling on the start and he put the scotch in his lap and said, “Start smoothly. Spill a drop of this and I will run you over with this car.” (I didn’t believe he actually would as it would necessitate a detailing to get my guts removed, but I got the message.)
The light turned green and I revved the engine a bit more than I should have, but feathered that clutch in like a pro. I modulated engine speed and clutch engagement. We inched forward and then gained speed nicely, engine revving and clutch slipping the whole way. After a very long 10 or 15 seconds, everything was getting normal and it was time to shift to second. No problem there, except for a bit of an odd burning smell. We continued the drive uneventfully.
Not a drop of scotch was spilled, but I’m pretty sure I took 10,000 miles off that clutch’s life at that intersection.
Overall, it was a good experience learning to drive. Thanks, Dad.
I’m not sure Bunta would’ve ever used scotch, but using a cup of liquid to gauge vehicle stability is a time-honored tradition. Not spilling any of it, on your first try, is commendable. As an aside, your dad had a 280z in road-salt-free Florida — is he looking to sell? Asking for a friend (me).
Bare Legal Minimums
I’m sure everyone here is a great driver considering the source, but the amount of comments from drivers with no formal education and the fact that a “bare-legal minimum eight-hour lecture” exists to license drivers explains a lot of what I see on the road. I had no idea you could get licensed without a set number of hours on public roads and classroom instruction, even if they’re laughable ones taught by substitute shop teachers.
I took private lessons because it lowered my insurance, and I’d been driving farm-use trucks for a few years already, so I found the class cathartic. The other students I rode with were good drivers and the teacher was an older lady with a lot of stories, so we basically just explored the rural roads and mountains outside town in a series of Sunday drives. One girl didn’t know which pedal was the gas, but other than that it was pretty uneventful.
Now I’m wondering why they stopped making Chevy Corsicas. That was a fine automobile. Those velvet seats were plush.
I’ll admit, the course was only eight hours (for Connecticut) but it still required somewhere around 30 or 40 hours of in-car experience. The advantage there, though, was that I could do those hours on my schedule — commuting to school, driving around on the weekends, things like that.
Scratch The Shadow
2008(9?) Basic MSF course to get my M endorsement. We had Honda Shadow 500s as the course motorcycles. Did pretty good overall, but I let it get to my head. In the last day of the practical portion, I entered a right hand corner too hot, front tire lost grip, and I lowsided. No real damage to the bike. Scratched foot peg, muffler, and bar end. Ended up with a hole on my jeans. And damaged my pride. Still passed. According to the instructors, there’s always one person that lowsides or tips the bike over in each course. It happened to be me at that one.
A 500 V-twin seems like a lot of bike for an MSF. The size, the weight, it can’t be a simple bike to learn on. Going down once makes sense — and your instructors were right, every class has one.
No Instruction Necessary
My worst was the instructor guy that “approved” everyone without any behind-the-wheel anything. So consider this: when I was an instructor I had extensive observation sessions.
I did NSC (National Safety Council) adapted vandriver training. Normally it was for E450 cutaways, sprinters, transits, and even the minivans. It included wheelchair lift training, etc. It did not require a CDL but those with a passenger vehicle endorsement were sought after. We could not match the pay, so it was normally retired guys or those that just need a few hours because they are doing other things. I eventually learned if someone had a CDL and wanted to work for us, there was a reason....
I was set to hire a guy with a CDL & PVE. Awesome, great. Records come back clean. The only hiccup is that when we met in the fleet yard, his personal vehicle is beaten like it was in a riot. A newish car at that but you never know since it is a city and on-street parking gets sideswiped constantly. I should have asked but his record was clean. He kinda fails to do a walk-around inspection so I stop him and we do it. I had it ready but I want to train my drivers never to take another driver’s word that the vehicle was inspected. Anyway, we start the driving session. He fails to release the parking break and tries to floor it. He fails to yield at a crosswalk, failed to yield at a roundabout, hit the curb in a cutaway (so that thing want to tip) all within the first QUARTER mile. I ended the training right then. Paid him for his time and just went in a different direction.
The other time was when I helped out another department to do their driver training and the kid who could actually drive a manual (yay!), forgot to apply the handbrake or it had failed, leave it in oppo gear, (or set a chuck).... on his way over. Yup. I watched a fleet Ford pickup with a snowplow roll down a hill and hit a tree... driven by a guy who wasn’t cleared to be driving a vehicle yet.
I’m impressed you paid the guy for his time, I’m sure a lot of people would’ve put that money towards replacing the tire that the curb likely gouged. Still, he showed up, so it’s nice to give him his due — just, not the job.
Corruption Of The Highest Order
It was part of the curriculum at my school so everyone took it. It was part of gym class for some reason (I remember that because it was the one aspect of gym that I actually excelled at).
I had been practicing for quite a while so I breezed through the class and felt quite confident about the test.
The day before the driving test, the instructor told the class that for an extra $50, he would take you out and show you the route beforehand. I didn’t feel like I needed the help, nor did I have a spare $50, so I passed on the offer.
Drove the test without any problems, parked the car and was told, “Sorry, that’s a fail.” When I asked how I had failed, he just said that I didn’t pass, then booted me out of the car for the next person.
Checking with the rest of the class afterwards, everyone who paid the extra $50 had passed, and everyone who didn’t failed. Funny how that works.
Demanding bribes from students is a new one. I know teachers’ salaries are heinously low and a scathing indictment of how America treats its educators, but still. At least demand bribes from the parents.
A Careful, Metered Approach
My driver’s ed class was such a joke. It was taught by the high school shop teacher (and this is in 2000, when this was less of a stereotype than it used to be), who was about three months from retirement and had long since gave all his fucks away. It was taught in the basement of the church across from the school because I have no idea why. The videos we watched were so old that when I described them to my mom she said she remembered them, and they were old even in 1977 (same teacher, too). There were kids trying to sneak rubbing snuff, pretty sure one kid was trying to fondle his gf the whole time during the videos, and another obnoxious kid that tried to convince us he’d lived in Germany last summer and got to drive a Lotus Esprit on the autobahn.
In the middle of one of the classes, I got a massive nosebleed because I was on heavy decongestants due to a sinus infection, and bleed all over that day’s quiz.
All the quizzes, by the way, were open book - in that the teacher left the book open on table while he went outside to smoke, and told us that whatever we did with that book, he didn’t have to know about.
The training car was a 1989 Dodge Dynasty with the extra pedals on the passenger side. I’d been driving my grandma’s 1985 Buick Lesabre, so I was used to driving a car like this. Instead of driving a prescribed route, the teacher just had me drive out to an Amish sawmill so he could buy stain for a table they’d made for him.
The next time, I rode along with him and another girl, and she nearly t-boned someone rolling through a stop sign. He also made her cry (and me nearly so) while practicing parallel parking. It’s a miracle I passed my test - I don’t think the girl did, at least on her first try.
When instructing children, it’s important to be either entirely absent or screaming rage — ideally, vacillating between the two rapidly and unpredictably. Kids don’t do well with rational, helpful educators.
Space Is Overrated
The closest I have to an interesting Driver’s Ed story was mostly discomfort and humor. Having grown up out in farm country an hour’s drive from any freeway, our instructor saw fit for us to take a long drive to ensure we weren’t distracted drivers and also had a chance to drive on a freeway before we got licensed. Because of the logistics of this, we piled 3 students and and instructor into the Driver’s Ed car and did this 3+ hour trip.
Our Driver’s Ed car was an early-’90s Pontiac Sunbird. The three of us put together for our long freeway trip, in an early 1990s Pontiac Sunbird, were me, a 210-pounder, a member of our football team, and the 6'5" star of our basketball team. The discomfort, obviously, came from 3 large people stuffed into a tiny car.
The humor came from the fact that our instructor, who was also a high school teacher, had other stuff like grading papers to do. So after he was comfortable that we weren’t going to fall asleep at 10:00 a.m., he went to work on his other stuff and completely stopped paying attention to us driving. We were all sick of being in the car after awhile, and the basketball player doing the final leg of the drive was doing literally 20 over the speed limit just to get done. At one point, the instructor looked up, says “Ope, Gary, you’re going a bit fast,” and then goes right back to grading papers.
By no means anything like my buddy (who took Driver’s Ed a few months after I did) backing their DE car into a tree hard enough to smash out the window, but I still laugh when I think about it.
If you tuned in to our Twitch stream yesterday, you would’ve been treated to a prolonged discussion about the proper size for cars to be. The Pontiac Sunbird is a good size for many, many things. Driver’s Ed is not one of them.
Sidelined By Snow
Minnesota, 1998. Driver’s License test, complete with 3-4" of fresh powdery snow.
Back then, behind the wheel license exams were booked out a matter of months, so it wasn’t like I could go back on a clear day. I drove there with my mom, waited my turn, and was paired with my examiner lady. We pulled into the starting area, did the equipment checks and all of that, and she said “Turn left to begin the test.”
The road she wanted me to turn on was about as wide as a city alley, and completely covered in snow. No signs to be seen, so I asked her “Is this a one or two way street?” She replied in a bitchy tone, “Well you’re here to prove to me that you know that!” Being a super narrow snow filled path with no other cars around, I turned left and drove right down the middle of it out to the wider road and the rest of the course. Parallel parked and corner backed like a boss. Everything perfect. We park, and she says, “You did everything great, but you failed immediately when you drove down the middle of the road.”
I could have strangled her. My pleas that it’s a narrow, unsigned, empty, covered path fell on deaf ears. She failed me anyway, despite acing the rest of the exam. I had to wait fucking MONTHS for another opportunity to test, and return to my friends with my tail between my legs, asking for continued rides to school.
I will be salty as fuck about this till the day I die.
I feel your pain. The only points I lost on my driver’s license test were for making a three-point turn into a five-point — because plows had pushed banks of snow onto the sides of the road. Points should take weather conditions into consideration, or they just don’t make sense.
The Rare Road Test Impact
My HS buddy’s sister Renee hit a deer on her first road test to get her license.
I wasn’t there, and only heard second-hand stories, but based on the pictures, there was only slight damage to the driver’s ed car (a Chevy Citation IIRC) and the deer scampered off seemingly unharmed.
Renee on the other hand was a wreck and refused to get behind the wheel for months afterwards.
It’s good the deer was okay, but I fully understand Early Driving Trauma. After my first speeding ticket, I could be found doing 45 miles an hour down I-84 out of fear of flashing lights in my rear view. These things get to you.
Can’t Go Interrupting Newspaper Time
My Dad Threatened the Instructor (but it isn’t what you think)
I forgot my passport when I went to take my test. The test center was 30 minutes from home, and when we got there the guy asked for my passport first-thing, which I then realized I’d forgotten, and immediately failed me. We asked if I could run home and grab it, but he insisted that he was fully booked the rest of the day, and that it would be at least 3 weeks time before I could retest because they were booked up until then... and he was kind of a jerk about it. We went home; I was dejected, and my dad was miffed that I’d forgotten my passport after he’d reminded me like 17 bajillion times, lol.
When we get home, my dad tells me to find my passport, and we’ll go back and see if they can squeeze me in. I start making a huge deal about how I don’t wanna bother the guy, and how he already seems like a jerk and I really don’t want to take a test with the guy after pissing him off, but my dad is adamant and so back we go.
We get there, I wait in the car, not wanting to cause a scene, and my dad walks into the testing center. 60 seconds later he comes hustling out to the car, motions me to roll down the window, and tells me, “He was just sitting there with his feet up on the desk reading a newspaper. I threatened to report him if he didn’t test you, so don’t fuck it up because he’s really angry now,” and then just walked away as the instructor huffed his way into the car.
Needless to say, I was terrified, but I guess the instructor was both angry, AND worried about his job, because all he had me do was drive down the street, make a left turn, back up a few feet in a straight line, and parallel park (and I totally fucked it up on my first try because I was terrified). The entire test probably lasted less than 3 minutes, and I never interacted with another car on the road, or really demonstrated any ability other than knowing how a car works, lol. I thought for sure he would fail me, but instead he just passed me with flying colors and stormed back into his office.
As long as you put it in the Google Calendar, reading a newspaper is a totally normal thing to do during work. After all, how else are you going to keep up on things that may become stories? Granted, my perspective as a news writer might be a little skewed here, but I thing it’s totally fine.
24 Hours Of Learning
We did a 24 hours of lemons race back in Dec 2019. we got to the track on friday, unloaded everything, and were reminded that my friend didnt know how to drive a manual.....
..... That was going to be a problem....
So that night we took the car to the upper lot at sonoma raceway, (gravel is excellent for learning on manual btw)... and we taught him the basics on rowing gears.... it took about 45 minutes. he picked it up pretty quick. it helped hes a cyclist, so shifting is natural. we told him “if youre uncomfortable, just do the whole track in 3rd... youll be fine.”
race day, we strapped him in, and sent him off. he stalled twice rolling out to the track-on, but once he rolled on track and mashed that throttle, the rest was history. he can row them like dale. you could say hes actually pretty good at driving a manual now.
They say the best way to learn is by doing, right? What’s more doing than hopping into a race car, and an active race, to teach yourself a stick transmission? Just like the water cup, it adds stakes.
I did take driver’s ed and later the MSF course, but both of those went pretty smoothly. The driver’s ed lady was a bit strange at times, but I could already drive, I just did it for reduced insurance (South Carolina in 2000). The funny story is with my dad probably in 1999 teaching me to drive his 1985 Ford Ranger with 5 speed manual, power steering, and no power brakes in the church parking lot. I’d been driving various tractors (grew up in the country) since I was about 10, so the basics were similar. So we start out, he’s teaching me clutch control. We get moving pretty good and I shift to second. By the end of the parking lot he tells me to stop. I got the brakes like I would on an old yard tractor. Even without vacuum boosted brakes, dad nearly are the dashboard. He got himself calmed down so I didn’t get chewed out too bad, but a mad scrambled for his seatbelt ensued.
Those old Rangers may have been simple, utilitarian trucks, but they did have power brakes going for them. I know, it sounds like too much luxury for such a machine, but Ford treated us all to something special.
Do You Know Who I Was?
Not me but a close friend, she had moved to Canada from Germany and for some bizarre reason she got a graduated licence that had a lot of restrictions on it. Two years later she was allowed to take the test to give her a full licence, the instructor failed her on the hill parking portion, she parked the car facing downhill with the tires pointing to the curb, the instructor insisted this was wrong and an instant fail. My friend lost it with her insisting correctly she was in the right, the instructors supervisor came out due to the raised voices and reviewed the information and passed my friend. She then informed them that she worked at a driving school in Germany and was not impressed, she later informed me that she cleaned the place after hours, but still she worked at a driving school.
This is why the American driver education system pales in comparison to Germany’s. I had no idea there was a specific way to street park on hills, other than “near the curb” and “stationary.” Maybe even “not blocking a driveway,” if you want to get real fancy with it.
Tales From Two Wheels
2 wheel stories:
I’m 15yo, its February in early 1980 something NJ and I want my moped license badly. In NJ you had to take the “road” test on their closed course. Simple enough but the closest test center is 15miles from my house and it started snowing and snowing. Instructor was a little stunned but I passed first time and got home as fast as that Puch would get me. No helmets back then just a wool hat. (this is summer riding gear)
I’m now 22yo and its late 1980 something in NJ. I’ve been learning how to ride a motorcycle behind my parents back so been sneaking out with my buddy to ride his brothers 78' Kawasaki KZ850? with Kerker pipes and some crazy clutch. 2 nights before the test, brother says: “oh the bike isn’t legal, you gotta road test with something else”. Quickly borrowed another buddy’s nearly new Kawasaki GPZ75o which is a totally different bike to me. I fail the NJ “road” test because I put my feet down to redo the figure 8's. Am able to reschedule right away but totally frustrated even though instructor says “you had it but I have to fail you if you put your feet down”....
I’m now 22yo and 2weeks older and much better at riding the GPZ. Go through the “road” course again. No F ups but as I am traveling down the fake street an approaching girl taking her drivers road test signals left to go into one of the fake side streets and cuts directly in front of me. As if I didn’t even exist. Luckily I’d been covering the brake and was only going about 15mph so stopped. Her instructor’s eyes were wide open and he was yelling at her. Upon return my instructor passed me and commented that she had failed the test way before nearly taking me out.
It’s always nice when your road test is interrupted by someone crossing your lane of travel. Even that, however, cannot hinder the Absolute Vibes of early-eighties summer riding gear. What a time.
Maybe Do Not Kill The Squirrel
Regular old drivers ed, just getting my hours in. The teachers would have us just randomly drive around (and drive them to do their errands). We’d pick up the next student then drive back to our house. I am driving with the teacher in the passenger seat and a girl I didn’t know in the back. I come around a corner and there is a squirrel in the lane. I moved to the other lane to avoid it but there was a van coming toward us. Teacher starts screaming “KILL THE SQUIRREL” and the girl in starts screaming as well. I corrected back right, missed the squirrel and made it home.
2nd story: Our drivers ed included using their car for the test, and the teacher would be with us. Here the state police ‘administer’ the test so we all get into the car (cop as passenger and teacher in the back) and I start to head out. I’m about to exit the parking lot and some jackwagon comes FLYING into the exit that I’m heading toward. Before I know it the cop stabs the drivers ed car brake that extends to the passenger side. I thought I failed right there but he let me continue. I should have failed for a number of reasons but it ended up being ok.
Good on you for sparing the squirrel. They haven’t done anything to harm us, and if no one’s in the oncoming lane there’s no reason not to shift over and dodge. Gold star.
Our driver’s ed class had a few weeks of “on the range” training where we drove cars on an enclosed parking lot course. We partnered two people to a car and did basic maneuvers together. One particular day, my partner and I “lucked out” and got the newest car, a first-gen Chevy Cavalier sedan. We were generally pretty nice to each other, so I didn’t have to worry about him slamming on the second brake on the passenger side (this happened a lot to other people), but he did start playing with everything in the car.
When he put down the passenger-side sun visor, a bottle of Mylanta tablets fell into his lap. We both found this hilarious, then he took it a step further by rolling his window down and throwing tablets at the other cars. The teacher was more worried about the one person who wasn’t able to successfully drive the car backwards and forwards in a straight line without spinning out, so he didn’t get caught.
The concept of practicing for the driver’s test on a closed course is so foreign to me. How do you learn to anticipate other drivers? Work around other cars? How do you practice your long-range tablet aim?
Major Safety Concern
Motorcycle Safety Course story - Woman in my class was a know-it-all. Her husband rode Harleys and she had only ridden on the back, but kept talking over the instructor and other folks in the class about all her experience. Apparently her husband bought her some sort of Harley 1200 as her first bike so she talked a big game but didn’t make any fast friends.
Once we got out of the classroom and onto the course, it was really her time to shine. Not only did she not know how to work a clutch, but she could hardly balance on her own. She proceeded to crash twice in the first hour or so, wet her pants on the second crash, and then stormed off, leaving her bike laying on the course. To this day, I wonder what the hell she did with her bike at home, I just hope she didn’t try to ride it. Eesh.
Showing up to an instructional course as a know-it-all is never a good idea. Best case, you’re insufferable; worst case, you’re insufferable and immediately humbled. Looks like your classmate picked the latter.