What do you remember from driver's training? In my case, I took private lessons from a geriatric instructor in Holland, Michigan, mostly because I had somehow missed the signup for the class offered by my high school. I spent two weeks going after school, watched some instructional videos, drove around in a car that had a brake pedal on the right side for the teacher (he didn't use the brake for me, but he did jerk the steering wheel out of my hand on a few occasions), and then took a take-home final exam. I had a written test at the Michigan Secretary of State office, but no driving test, and then I had a learner's permit for a few months before I got my real license. Chicken soup.

I can tell she learned a heck of a lot more than I did during driver's ed, just from reading her notes.

Things weren't quite so simple for Paula Thiewes, when she took her driver's education course in 1969. Even though I wasn't leaning over her shoulder in the classroom at the time, I can tell that Paula learned a heck of a lot more than I did during driver's ed, just from reading her notes.

Paula recently found her old class notes when sorting through a box of high school memorabilia. "Driving was a big deal" for Paula, who felt sentimental enough about her time learning to drive that she held on to her meticulously prepared papers from the class. She recently shared this time capsule of driving ephemera with her car-nut son Jake, who in turn scanned all 30 pages, and posted the gallery on Reddit where it is currently still in the process of blowing up.
I spoke with Paula this afternoon to talk a little bit about what things were like, then versus now. Just like lots of us, Paula recounts that she was 15 years old when she took the class. Her Virginia high school made driver's education a mandatory full-semester course. That amount of time dedicated meant that kids were thoroughly schooled in the basics of a car's greasy bits ­– one assignment saw Paula changing the tire of the family Fiat under the watchful eye of her father – as well as the best advice of the day in terms of safety and rules of the road.

The notes are remarkably interesting to browse, including teacher-espoused one-liners ("jackrabbit driving may save time but you may lose your life"), loads of hand-drawn diagrams, and the ever-important "Three Cs" (Concentration, Control, Courtesy).



What's more, Paula's driver's ed class seems to have jumpstarted a lifelong love of cars. Her car-geek cred is strong: Paula learned to operate a manual transmission on a Volkswagen Type 3 "Squareback," her favorite car amongst those she's owned was a 1985 Honda CRX Si, and even today she has a Chrysler Crossfire with a manual transmission that she's taken autocrossing with her son. Those fundamentals she learned in high school have served her well. Paula tells me that she had no problems parallel parking when she lived San Francisco's notoriously hilly streets, and most remarkably, she revealed that she's not had one ticket in 43 years of driving.

Paula admits that kids today have got a tougher task ahead of them than did her generation. "When we were kids, we didn't have the distraction of texting and cell phones." She said, recounting that it was her and her husband's instructions that made up for a deficit in classroom time when her son was training to drive.

Paula's driver's ed class seems to have jumpstarted a lifelong love of cars. Her car-geek cred is strong.

So far, the Reddit community tends to agree with her. In the day or so that the post has been live, commenters on the site have found tons to talk about; mostly recounting their own driver's ed experiences, with younger people having had similar, low-intensity experiences like my first training. They've also had to pay a lot more for the privilege. Where Paula's class was a part of the curriculum and my high school offered it free to students, these days it's typical for American teens to spend more than $400 for classes.

That's nothing in comparison to some of the European experiences, however. Reddit commenters from Denmark, Norway and Sweden have reinforced that modern training across the Atlantic is at least as comprehensive as that which Paula got in 1969. Tales of driving tests in many real-world situations (with plenty of low-grip stuff thrown at them up in the northern reaches of the world) and paying the equivalent of $3,000 or more seem to be the norm rather than the exception.

We even got in touch with our old friend Damon Lavrinc – currently the Transportation Editor at Wired and former instructor at his family's driver's training school – for some insight into what he saw in these decades-old training notes. Damon agrees that current classes don't have time to lavish detail on running gear, as did Paula's notes.

"Cars used to be a completely mechanical affair, so there wasn't just a basic focus on troubleshooting and maintenance, but a thorough understanding of every single element that makes it go, stop and turn," he says.

But Damon still says that there has been a "revolution" in the industry in terms of how good instructors train now. What he really sees lacking in the 1969 notes is, "...Anything to do with defensive driving, vision techniques and situational awareness. And what was included was very outdated, like proper following distance (it's based on time, not car lengths)."

Whether you were trained with care or with inattention, chances are good that your first driving experiences – including driver's education – stick in your brain. As Paula pointed out with fondness, "It's one of the coolest chapters in your life to get that license." I couldn't agree more. Take some time to scroll through her notes, to remember your own first days of driving.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 48 Comments
      Zoom
      • 1 Year Ago
      Our education system has become so dysfunctional that in most "regular" classes students don't know how to take detailed notes let alone have teachers or a curriculum that requires it. Our education system is nothing like it was in the 1950s and 1960s when we were trying to beat the Soviets. Now we're just letting the Chinese and Koreans walk all over us educationally.
      BG
      • 1 Year Ago
      Very impressive. And it demonstrates that drivers had to be intelligent back then. How we have fallen...
        jase.s
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BG
        To be honest though, I doubt the vast majority of drivers would benefit from knowing how a four stroke engine works.
          Ridge
          • 1 Year Ago
          @jase.s
          It certainly beats Steering Wheel -> Magic -> Wheels
      bldistefano
      • 1 Year Ago
      The Automatic Car is what makes time travel possible.
      Leonard Schneider
      • 1 Year Ago
      The demands of the DMV driving test here in California are pathetic. Basically, you spend ten minutes driving around side streets and boulevards: no freeway time, no mechanical demonstration (like knowing where the spare is located or where to put in motor oil), no more parallel parking... You start with 100 points and are deducted points for every mistake. To receive a CA license, the prospective driver needs a score of 70 or better. What this translates to is you can screw up nearly a third of the time and STILL be considered capable of operating 3800 lbs. of steel and plastic. My dream is to see the pass-point level raised to 90, and a full test taking up at least a half hour: ten minutes on surface streets, ten minutes on the freeway, and ten more devoted to basic knowledge of the vehicle, like where the damn gas cap is and how to put air in a tire. To hell with basic competence, it'd be nice to have fellow drivers with actual ability.
      raughle1
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wow -- in the 60's they taught about how cars actually work?? Driver's Ed 2013: 1) Stop texting for a minute 2) Set down your energy drink 3) Push the red button 4) Put the lever in "D" 5) Try not to hit anything 6) If you get a flat tire, call AAA
      michigan
      • 1 Year Ago
      If they tried to teach kids today any of the stuff in that picture, the kids would run out of there screaming and crying. The buttons on their phones would disintegrate from texting their friends to complain. All the social networking sites would crash from their whining.
        Neez
        • 1 Year Ago
        @michigan
        no, they would run home and tell their parents how hard the course is, how irrelevant all the information is and it's ruining their GPA. Then the parents would come into the school, yell at the principle, yell at the teacher, demand easier tests and to just make them watch scary crash videos to prevent them from speeding. That's exactly how our schools are in all subjects today, and why we fell all the way down to like 14th place in education. If my kid couldn't figure any of this stuff out, i'll fast track him into a management degree program. He can just sit at his desk all day, surf the internet, and yell instructions. Meanwhile making a 6 figure income. God bless america.
          Rieku Ame
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Neez
          Exactly. Kids today are pampered and spoiled. They don't know how to recover from failure much less what it means to fail at something. They don't really know how to earn something because even the looser gets a prize. It's all about feelings today. I say give tests like this to kids. This will TEACH them something about cars and driving. NOT HANDING them licenses and keys. This would make them earn something. And to be honest, this really isn't even a hard test.
        Bryan Pizzuti
        • 1 Year Ago
        @michigan
        Naah, there's probably enough that would actually get into it, and spawn a new generation of hot-rodders, which we always need.
      SpikedLemon
      • 1 Year Ago
      Sounds like a way to reduce insurance costs by ... gasp... training people
        Go2Fast
        • 1 Year Ago
        @SpikedLemon
        i graduated in 1994 and in Illinois, driver's ed is a requirement to graduate from HS (or was back then?). Makes sense.
      jebibudala
      • 1 Year Ago
      Where do I start.... The illustration shows missing crankshaft & valves, pistons in improper locations, sparkplugs floating in chambers, bent connecting rods. Good try, but I give it an "F".
        bo_blutz
        • 1 Year Ago
        @jebibudala
        Your sarcasm / comedy was missed by the others.
      Ducman69
      • 1 Year Ago
      Woman logic: Takes notes about the otto cycle in driver's ed. Still can't parallel park.
      Gordon Chen
      • 1 Year Ago
      I don't wanna go off topic too much, but reading this article and skimming her notes, it's clear why kids are behind the rest of the world in math and science (or even English) nowadays.
      rollie
      • 1 Year Ago
      I learned how to drive on my grandfathers farm in 1956 when I was 9. My job was to drive the 2.5 ton stakebody International down the rows of celery as people cut and loaded crates on the truck. It had a standard transmission with a four speed floorshift, and no power steering. You had to keep the truck in \"granny\" gear, hold your line in between celery rows that were only 10 inches apart, and be carefull that you didn\'t hurt the migrant workers loading celery from each side. That was MY drivers ed....
      gibbs5988
      • 1 Year Ago
      Someone is OCD about note taking.
        MistyGreen
        • 1 Year Ago
        @gibbs5988
        lol. Driver wants to: prevent rain from decreasing visibility. Use: windshield wiper. Do: Turn it on. haha yea, that's the funny part about this, not the lack of current education.
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