Intensive classroom work helps kids get ready to get behind the wheel
Those of a certain age remember a time when just about every school in America offered driver’s education to students. Often, the instructor was the shop teacher or wrestling coach, who took students through the state’s driver’s handbook, offered up photos of hideous wrecks ” replete with black bars covering the eyes of victims ” then took kids out driving, usually in a car provided by the local dealership and fitted with a brake pedal on the right side, so the teacher could bring the lesson to a literally screeching halt if needed.
Times have changed.
Today, only one school district in Colorado ” Littleton ” offers driver’s ed. Without taking a class, though, beginning drivers must have their learner’s permits for a year. If youths take a driver’s ed course, they can get their permits at 15 years and six months.
Since schools don’t offer courses, though, the private sector and local community colleges have filled the void.
Ogden, a full-time code enforcement officer in Vail, has taught driver training through Colorado Mountain College for the past six years. Booker, a teacher by trade, started her own company, Eagle Valley Driver Training, just last year.
Neither teacher actually goes out riding with students. It’s too time-intensive, and the costs of insurance and fitting cars with right-side brake pedals is prohibitive.
Students still must submit a record of at least 50 hours of behind-the-wheel time, with at least 10 hours of night driving, to get a license. The job of co-pilot usually falls to parents, some of whom are reluctant to ride with beginning drivers, even their own kids.
“You’d be amazed how many parents call and say, ‘Who’s going to drive with my kid?'” Ogden said. “It’s not me.”
Instead of wheel time, both Ogden and Booker offer students 30 hours of classroom instruction. At CMC, the classes are spread over four Sundays. Booker crams her teaching into all-day sessions spread over a week.
Both teachers focus, and focus hard, on two issues: seatbelt use and drinking. Ogden dedicates an entire day to the consequences of drinking and driving.
Paying attention, which can be a challenge for almost any driver, also gets a lot of time from the teachers. But getting teens to pay attention through a full day of class might be the biggest challenge.
“There are days it’s so frustrating,” Booker said. “Sometimes it’s a day-by-day thing.”
Ogden has her moments, too, but after six years of teaching, she now has learned how to mix up the days.
“It’s not just me standing up there lecturing all that time,” Ogden said.
She hands out frequent quizzes, brings in guest speakers, and generally tries to vary the course enough to keep a teenager’s attention.
Driving to work
But how did two seemingly normal women get into the business? Through teaching and a love of kids.
Ogden has been a substitute teacher, daycare provider and preschool assistant. When Vail Fire Department Deputy Chief Mike McGee asked her to teach the course a few years ago, she swallowed hard, then agreed.
Over the years, Ogden has developed a curriculum and learned some of the tricks necessary to keeping a teenage brain engaged through 30 hours of course work.
Booker is a teacher by trade. A recent graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, Booker came to the area in 2002 looking for a full-time teaching job.
A veteran of a private driving school in Greeley, Booker decided to augment her substitute teaching income by starting Eagle Valley Driver Training. Since she was opening a private school, she had to submit a curriculum to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Other than that, instructors don’t need formal certification.
Booker also serves as a state-certified tester, which means many of her students take their driving tests from her, then present proof they’ve passed to the driver’s license offices in Glenwood Springs or Frisco.
“Sometimes I hold that over them,” Booker said. “I let them know they have to take their tests from me, and I can revoke their learner’s permits if I need to.”
Does it work?
Are kids safer drivers for taking 30 hours of course work? Ogden isn’t sure.
“I hope it helps,” she said. “I’ll come across kids who were in my classes and they’ll say, ‘I had an accident, but I wasn’t doing what you taught me.’ So they don’t necessarily apply it, but they are learning it.”
One recent student thinks Ogden and Booker are doing fine.
Kelly Lemon of Eagle-Vail took her driver’s ed course from Ogden and her license test from Booker. She had kind words for both.
“There’s a lot of information in class,” Lemon said. “You really learn the basics.”
Lemon, whose right arm is paralyzed because of an auto accident when she was younger, was especially grateful to Booker, who was willing to make some adjustments to the driving test to accommodate her. “She was real patient and understanding, and willing to work with me,” Lemon said.
Ogden and Booker both said they wish they could work with more students.
While both can have full classes at times, both wish driver’s education could go back into the high schools. Citing the Littleton example, Booker said with tuition and a sponsorship or two, driver training could be a self-supporting program.
While there are some kids who take a “whatever” attitude into and through the courses, Booker said driver education is worth the time and money.
“The statistics say we’re reaching kids,” she said, noting that kids who take driver training are less likely to be in accidents, evident by the lower insurance rates a certificate of completion from a course will earn.
Mostly, though, both Ogden and Booker work with youths because they like it. If some of what they say works, so much the better.
The following are questions from the final exam in Jackie Ogden’s driver education course
– The number of points you need to accumulate for your minor’s license to be suspended is:
a) Six points in 12 consecutive months.
b) 12 points in six consecutive months.
c) Six points in six consecutive months.
d) Seven or more points for the period of the license.
– If you are under 17 years old, who is required by law to wear seatbelts while you are driving?
a) You and your front seat passenger.
b) You and any child under 10 years old.
c) You and everybody else in the car.
d) You and your parent or guardian.
– What is the blood alcohol content of a person under 21 years of age that would be presumed to be driving under the influence?
Answers: d, c, b
To learn more about driver’s education in the valley, call Colorado Mountain College, (970) 569-2900, or Eagle Valley Driver Training, (970) 949-8235.