INfrequently Asked Questions: Terrors of being a driver ed teacher

  • Stevenson High School driver education teacher Ryan Smith.

    Stevenson High School driver education teacher Ryan Smith. Courtesy of Ryan Smith

Updated 12/20/2015 7:11 AM

This week's INfrequently Asked Questions features Ryan Smith, 36, of Shorewood, who tells us about the terrors of being a driver education instructor at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshere.

Why him? If you're a teenager who wants to get a driver's license in Illinois, you need to attend a driver education program first. Smith has been teaching students at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire how to drive since 2010.


Q. Are teenagers as terrible drivers as older people think? Or do they get a bad rap?

A. "I think most experienced drivers get impatient and frustrated with teenage drivers -- hence the bad reputation for teenage drivers. However, those same experienced drivers are getting frustrated for the wrong reasons. New drivers, in general, follow the rules of the road which includes speed limits. Experienced drivers have forgotten what complete stops and speed limits look like. Sad -- but very true."

Q. What's the most common mistake student drivers make behind the wheel?

A. "Distinguishing left from right, checking blind spots, awareness and backing. That is more than one, but all are equally common."

Q. Were you a good driver as a teenager? Come on, admit it, you were a terror, right?

A. "I was a great driver. I started driving when I was 12 on the back roads in Decatur. By the time I was 16, I was an expert -- at least in my mind I was."

Q. What is the most important piece of knowledge you try to teach young drivers? Does anyone listen?

A. "Responsible decision making -- especially when it comes to texting and driving and drinking and driving. I make sure my students understand and grasp the idea that their decisions not only impact them but also the community as a whole. One poor decision can ruin many people's lives. I certainly hope it resonates."

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Q. What's the single-worst thing you've seen a student driver do in the car?

A. "Although this did not happen at Stevenson, I did have a student mistake the gas for the brake and drive through a T-intersection into a front yard. A local law-enforcement officer watched the entire situation unfold. Fortunately, no damage was done and the officer controlled traffic while we backed out of the yard. Good times!"

Q. Have you ever thought, "This is it, we're going to die" as you're sitting next to a student driver?

A. "I think that in the back of my mind every time we begin an expressway lesson by merging onto I-94 at 35 mph."

Q. What's your dream vehicle? Thomas Magnum's Ferrari? KITT from "Knight Rider?" The Millennium Falcon?

A. "Although all of those cars are pretty nice, I am a fan of the classics -- I would love to have the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder from 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.' In the mean time, I would settle for a Tesla Model S to save on fuel for my commute."

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