In Virginia, it starts at 15 years and 6 months of age. This is the typical age when a teenager obtains their learner’s permit and then completes classroom and behind the wheel instruction to obtain their license. Behind the Wheel instruction consists of six 50 minute driving sessions with an instructor followed by a final road test. The behind the wheel experience is an interesting one. It can be filled with triumphs and failures.
By Scott Bledsoe, Hidden Valley High School
It was a sunny hot day in early August when I showed up at the driving school for my first Behind the Wheel session.
I sat in the office with two strange girls as we waited for our instructor to show up with the car. He arrived, and told me I would be driving first.
My heart started pounding. Driving scared me so much it wasn’t even funny. I sat nervously in the front seat.
“I’m ready when you are,” my instructor said.
I turned the car on and backed up out of the spot. So far so good, I thought. Then we pulled out onto the main road and it all fell apart.
First I wasn’t going fast enough, then I wasn’t in the correct lane, then I was going too fast. It was madness, and it didn’t help that my instructor seemed like a very intense person.
When I was dropped off after my first session, I felt drained and didn’t ever want to have an experience like that again. But I was determined to not quit. I was not going to still have to ride the bus as a senior in high school.
I requested different instructors for the remainder of the classes. They were both laid back and patient. And the rest of the sessions went smoothly, with only minor hiccups.
One time I blew through a yellow light when I had ample time to stop, and another time I drove over the curb while parking.
But my driving improved every session, and today I believe that I am a decent driver. My family and friends would probably beg to differ.
By Mitchell Alexander, Northside High School
I’m not going to lie; I was very nervous about starting my behind the wheel driver training.
I focused on the stories I’d heard from friends about how easy it was and how I would do fine. I entered the driver’s door in of a car I had never touched before. It was a sleek, newer Mazda, which put some of the other dinky student driver cars I had seen to shame.
My partner took a seat in the back, and my instructor, clipboard in hand, entered the passenger side door. The car had pulled straight into the parking space, so my first task would be to back it out successfully.
The pressure was on.
With a careful eye and an even more careful foot, I squeezed out of the space and turned out of the parking lot.
“This is your first day,” my instructor said to me. “So we’re just going to see how you do. Just drive.”
That was a relief. But then, he continued.
“Your partner is going second because this is ‘fun’ day for him.”
I tried to focus on the road as my mind combed through the possibilities of what ‘fun’ day could be.
My 50 minutes in the driver’s seat expired, and I pulled into a parking lot to let my partner take over. I soon found out that ‘fun’ days include a lot of a sarcasm and very little actual fun.
We made our way to a back road, and my instructor did something that I will never forget.
He grabbed the wheel, ran us halfway off of the road, and said calmly, “correct it.”
I was stunned. This was his way of evaluating the driver’s reaction to roadside emergencies. It was very genius, in a way.
The surge of shock soon faded, and once my partner demonstrated a few other skills, our session ended without any other surprises.
There is some truth to ‘fun’ day, actually. If you’re the driver, it’s scary. But if you’re the guy in the back watching it happen, it is quite ‘fun’ indeed.