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Learning to drive from Mr. Cranky

By Staff | Jun 26, 2016

It happened again last week, on Wednesday afternoon.

I was almost involved in an accident in one of Blue Earth’s three roundabouts.

Well, OK, it happens a lot. But this time it was serious. Or could have been serious, anyway.

This time I was in my vehicle going around the circle when a semi-truck, which was hauling pigs, approached the roundabout fast. Real fast.

Luckily, I saw him coming. And, luckily I figured he had no intention of stopping. He didn’t. He roared right into the roundabout without even thinking about slowing down, much less stopping.

So I stomped on the brakes and stopped, inside the roundabout, despite the fact I had the right-of-way, and let him through.

It was either that or get creamed by a hog-hauling semi from Iowa. And, that is not one of the ways I plan on dying and going to meet my maker.

It’s called defensive driving. And I learned it a long time ago.

It was exactly 50 years ago in fact. That is when I started taking drivers training.

I was 15 and soon to be 16 and a junior in high school. Driver’s education was an actual class in school back then.

At my high school, there were two driver’s ed teachers. Mr. John Gibson was a really nice teacher whom all the kids liked a lot. Mr. Kenneth Caldwell was a mean and cranky old guy whom nobody liked.

You’ll never guess which one I got. Yup, Mr. Caldwell.

He scared the bejeebers out of me. He was indeed very cranky, stern, mean and never, ever smiled. He was constantly lecturing the students in his car. It was like you could not do anything correct.

But, you know what? I learned how to drive a car the proper way.

Full stops at stop signs. Look both ways. Always use turn signals (I still use the blinker even if there is no other car within 50 miles of me). He made us parallel park about a million times until we could do it within an inch of the markings on the parking lot.

I still know how to do it.

He also taught us defensive driving techniques. He had us convinced that every other driver on the road was out to get us. And, I think he was probably right.

See that car up ahead at the stop sign? The driver might not see you and his car could pull right out in front of you, Mr. Caldwell would say. In Blue Earth, that seems to happen about every day.

See that kid on the bicycle? He is probably not going to stop and he’ll blow through the intersection, and end up right in front of your car. You better be prepared to stop.

Be constantly on the vigil, eyes scanning the traffic ahead, he would always say.

So, last Wednesday it was Mr. Caldwell’s voice in my head.

See that semi coming up Highway 169 at a fast clip? I don’t think he’s going to stop and so you better be ready to hit the brakes.

I was and I did. Thanks, Mr. Caldwell.

You know, I think the highways would be a lot safer if everyone had a driver’s ed teacher like Mr. Caldwell. I can only imagine what he would be saying to students these days about distracted driving and texting while driving.

Eyes on the road, both hands on the steering wheel. Slow down and come to a full stop at that stop sign. Put that phone away and turn down the radio.

Concentrate on your driving and nothing else.

And watch out for those other guys. They are all out to get you.