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It isn't driver's ed until ma is screaming in your right ear

Summer is coming, and for the first time in the history of automobiles, the numbers of fifteen-year-olds hitting the highways in a driver's education car is decreasing. That means, maybe, that this hormone-riddled, vacuum-headed generation—and weren't we all-- has figured out that it is safer to log on than drive on.

One might thus go on to assume that for driver's ed instructors themselves, death by fear-induced cardiac event must also be diminishing.

I didn't get to take driver's ed, being one of the deprived ones back, well, when. As a farm boy, by the time I was allowed to take the driver's test over at the nearest town with a courthouse and test-giving patrolmen, I had already driven just about everything, usually at or past rational limits. And let me tell you, backing a four-wheel wagon full of soy beans into a narrow shed with a tractor that had no power steering—and not very good steering disregarding that—meant that parallel parking an automobile was second nature.

But I feel like I missed out on driver's ed, really. Mom was my driving instructor, and some of the ringing still in my right ear is due to her screams as my approaches to gravel intersections and the turns into them were taken at speeds a bit beyond both her experience and the laws of physics. I went into them thinking that if I could take them at 16 miles per hour using the individual rear wheel brakes on a farm tractor, I could certainly do them at double that with a car. To make a long story short, I could. But Ma couldn't. (For those of you non-farm-boys and girls, tractors have one brake pedal or lever for each rear wheel. It helps you turn heavy equipment in field conditions. And slide gravel corners.)

The picture of driver's ed in my mind is of three grim-faced teenagers and one grimmer-faced instructor all getting into a car at once, at the beginning of a lovely summer morning. I remember dropping one of The Young Girls off way back when, and seeing the instructor exiting the school building, walking toward the car like he was the pallbearer at his mother's funeral. It's the psychology of all this that fascinates me, the potential for human drama, the mischief to which I might have contributed, that makes me wish I'd been there in that car. Three kids without a real care in the world, and not much of a brain in their head, and one adult, who must get into the car hoping and praying that the second brake pedal he has on his side will stand up to one more stomping. It has already been stomped a hundred times, in reaction to a hormonally-overloaded nerve circuit in a teenager's brain causing him to press down on the accelerator pedal to stop the car.

In conclusion, and in defense of the brainless bunch of new drivers that isn't coming, it appears that we adults may have scared them off, since at least half of us drivers on the road now are trying to text and drive—and die doing it, and maybe taking a newbie with us.

So maybe they're not brainless at all. And we are.

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Wadena, all in Minnesota.

(218) 844-1466