Local News

Road Ready Instructor seeing better prepared driver's ed students

SEBRING - Driver's Education instructor Jeff Shoemaker swung his left arm out quickly to show he's ready to grab the steering wheel if one of his students has a problem on the road. But, he seldom has to take action. "This summer has been pretty good," Shoemaker said. The veteran driver's ed instructor, who started teaching it in 1977, believes today's students are better drivers than the students he taught in the past.
"I grew up in Indiana and started teaching up there and there are a lot of farms and so the kids drive a lot," he said. "But, here they have actually gotten better over the last few years." Maybe they've been practicing with golf carts, he joked. A couple of his latest students, Avon Park High sophomore Alyssa Cloud and Sebring High sophomore Kaitlyn Smith, prepared to depart from Sebring High on Monday morning for driving instruction. Shoemaker said he taught Smith's mother and father how to drive. Cloud said her mom usually helps her with her driving, because her dad "flips out" more than her mom. "I guess he is just kind of nervous because I am his baby girl and he doesn't want anything bad to happen to me and it's nerve wracking for him thinking I am going to be out on the road," she said. She drives his truck, which is "massive," Cloud noted. "It's like driving a tank on the road." Having already passed the written test, Cloud was going to take her driver's license road test Monday with Shoemaker. The classroom portion of driver's education is optional, Shoemaker noted, but students take the class because they like taking the driving test with the school instructors. Also, some students take the class because their parents want them to have a little more experience and in some cases parents don't want to teach their children, he said. It can hard sometimes for a parent to ride with their child who they see as the little kid and it's also hard for students to ride with their parents, Shoemaker said. A student will say their mom drives them crazy and she is so nervous. "I'm usually not nervous when we do this, it puts them at ease I guess," he said. Sebring High sophomore Kaitlyn Smith said she has gotten driving experience with her dad quite a bit. In driver's ed, she has been practicing the three-point turn and diagonal parking, she said. Cloud said Shoemaker has been teaching them how to do "everything" so when they get out on the road they don't have an accident. "He basically taught us that the cause of our actions and what we do is going to mess us up if we don't be careful with what we are doing," she said. Once she gets her license, Cloud said she will be driving a 2004 Ford Explorer to school and to FFA functions. "And, Just go everywhere I can to get out of the house," she said with a laugh. Shoemaker said the technological advancements since he has been teaching can be a negative thing for drivers who are texting or talking on cell phones, but the cars are much safer because of technology, with seat belts, air bags and anti-lock brakes and they handle better. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826