Driving for a license

May 07, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

Hagerstown - It's a rite of passage that can unite generations.

They might dress, speak and act differently, but 15-year-olds behind the steering wheels of cars for the first time are just as nervous as new drivers were 25 or 50 or more years ago.

The roads might have been in worse shape then, but there are more faster and bigger cars, trucks, vans, SUVs and tractor-trailers on them now.

Like voting or receiving a diploma, learning to drive can be a rewarding accomplishment for the young person who straps herself or himself in and steps on the gas pedal.


The car moves forward, propelling the teenager that much closer to adulthood.

But wait.

Often, there's another person in the car.

A nervous parent in the passenger seat reaching with his or her foot for a brake pedal that doesn't exist. An older brother or sister nervously noticing the car drift too close to the center line or shoulder. Or perhaps a friend urging his buddy to go faster while secretly wishing he were somewhere - anywhere - else.

Or that other person might be someone like John M. Shriver, a driving instructor with Widmyer Driving School's Hagerstown branch.

"Bring your crash helmet!" Shriver said to a visitor planning to go for a ride with a new driver one recent sunny afternoon.

He was joking. Or he seemed to be.

Two hours later, after driver's education student Monita Fairley, 20, of Hagerstown, wound her way along city streets, country roads and Interstate 70, it became obvious no crash helmet was needed.

In an evaluation afterward, Shriver, 55, gave the young woman the highest possible marks for all aspects of her driving except backing up.

She needed to work on reversing in a straight line.

After Fairley left, Shriver said he wishes he had more students like her.

"It's just a shame they're all not level-headed like she is," he said.

An instructor's stories

A driver's education instructor for more than 21 years, Shriver estimated that between time spent in a classroom and time spent on the road - the job he prefers to do - he has helped thousands of people learn to drive.

In that time, he's only been involved in one car wreck.

Last December on Md. 63, a young deer ran in front of a car being driven by a student. The deer was killed, but the car was not damaged; air bags did not even deploy.

"The main thing was nobody was hurt," Shriver said, adding that the student handled the situation well, remarking that it was "a heck of a way" to get his first deer.

"Other than that ... knock on wood, I've been very fortunate," Shriver said.

Still, the life of a driver's education instructor is bound to be full of stories, and Shriver is no exception.

"My wife tells me if I ever retire, I should write a book or write (to) Reader's Digest about some of the things that have happened," he said.

Asked to recount a few of the more memorable moments, Shriver first told of a student who came to a stop, as required, at a single flashing red light on Downsville Pike.

"She looked and, thank goodness nobody was behind us, she sat there for I guess about two minutes. It seemed like an eternity," Shriver recalled.

Shriver told her to go, but the woman replied that she couldn't. After ensuring that the woman was not suffering from a medical condition and that the car's "check engine" light had not come on, Shriver asked why she couldn't go.

"She said, this is the honest to God truth, 'I'm waiting for the light to turn green. It's flashing red,'" Shriver said.

After Shriver told her it was never going to turn green, the woman remembered that flashing red lights are to be treated as four-way stop signs, and put her head down on her arms in embarrassment.

She later obtained her license, despite the gaffe.

Another student, an older woman probably in her 60s, told Shriver that she did not need to review what the letters near the gearshift meant.

Asked to recount them, the woman said that "P" was used when passing another car, that "R" meant going backward (the only one about which she was correct), that "N" was used for night driving and that "D" was used for daytime driving.

"I'm telling you, you get all kinds in here," Shriver said. "I'm not making this up."

His disposition changed entirely when he told another story, this one epitomizing the rewards his job offers.

Because the state requires that anyone who has never held a driver's license take a driver's education course, sometimes older people enroll.

When Shriver met this particular woman, she was three days away from her 85th birthday.

"I really worked and worked with her," Shriver said. "She went down there (to the Motor Vehicle Administration office) and passed her test on her first try."

Although he wasn't expecting it, the woman, a widow who since has died, insisted on cooking him a steak dinner in celebration.

She found independence by driving herself to church, the store and bridge club meetings until she was 92, when cataracts brought an end to her days behind the wheel.

Earning a license

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