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We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

The worst driving student I ever met

February 20, 2013

Driving tests can be stressful at the best of times, but some students are better than others. Photograph by: Seth Perlman, The Associated Press

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, February 19th 2013

Every so often, I’m asked: “Am I the worst driver student you have ever taught?” Invariably, the answer is no.

The memory of the most difficult student driver I have taught is permanently etched in my mind. His first name was Gary. He was a handful from beginning to end.

The first in-car driving lesson was scheduled for an hour but lasted only 12 minutes. Gary was a very physically strong guy. He was so excited to learn to drive that he grabbed the signal lever in that first lesson and forced it so hard that it broke off the steering column.

From that point on, I had to be careful to give exact instructions. Instead of telling him to do a simple turn, I had to say where the turn was to be made before giving the direction of the upcoming travel. After several lessons, Gary came to be very exact and gentle in his control of the driving-school vehicle. He had a very light touch on the steering wheel during highway drives. Gary could be very robust in the steering process when needed, particularly when parallel parking. Everything seemed to be going great. It was time to set a date for the in-car driving test.

Gary did a warm-up drive for about an hour on test day. As we walked into the testing station, I asked him how long it had been since he had done any kind of test. He couldn’t remember anything in the immediate past.

After he’d paid his fee and signed the required documents, the driving examiner and Gary went out to the car and got in. The lights, horn, signals and wipers were all demonstrated to be in good working order by Gary. The driving portion of the test began, and the school car disappeared around the corner. I had a strange feeling of foreboding. It proved to be more than justified.

Before Gary left for the driving test, I had told him he would be asked by the examiner to return to the same parking spots where the test had begun. The driving-school car returned from the road test at the appointed time, with Gary at the wheel. He proceeded to do a parallel park. Unfortunately, a telephone pole “got in the way” as he was backing up and Gary hit the pole. He did not pass the test. There was no visible damage to the rear of the vehicle, and of course, the pole was no worse for wear. The examiner got out of the vehicle and had begun to explain the test result to me, when to our surprise, the driving school car pulled away from the curb and disappeared around the corner. Gary was driving alone without a valid licence!

I did not know what to think. Had he stolen the car? Was he distraught?

I borrowed the car of a friend who owned the gas station across the street and gave chase, but could not find my car. I was about to report the incident to the police when I saw it perfectly parked in the space where Gary’s test had begun. He had taken my comments literally and thought he had to be in the “very space” where the test had begun. So much for exact instructions!

Gary did get his licence on the next try. All’s well that ends well, as the saying goes.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a certified B.C. teacher and a graduate of the University of Manitoba.

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