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This week's Chicagoan: Paul Lewis, driver's ed instructor

"Our cars have a sign that says 'Driving School.' And people still ride up our butt."



A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"At first, it can be a little nerve-racking. When I started out, it was like, 'Am I gonna be able to control this car if somebody does something wrong?' But after you've been doing it a while, you expect somebody to do the unexpected at any time.

"Our biggest business is teens, but we do also do adults. We get people that have driven for years but have never gotten on the highway, and now they want to. We also get seniors, because after, like, age 80, you have to take your in-car driver's test every year.

"Sometimes we'll have the children of an elderly person say, 'Hey, I want you to take my mom or dad out; I want to make sure they're safe.' Once I had a woman who wanted her mom to be evaluated. So I took the mom out, and we were on Waukegan Road, and that's a four-lane road, two lanes each way. I had her in the left-hand lane, and she started to drift over the center line. I grabbed the wheel and said, 'You gotta watch that,' and she did it a couple more times.

"I had to tell the daughter, 'I don't think your mom should be driving.' And you could see in the mother's eyes that it just killed her. It's taking away her freedom. But I would rather see her mad at me than going out there and getting killed or killing somebody.

"Our cars have a sign on top and on the side that says driving school. And people still ride up our butt. If we're going a little slower, even the speed limit, they'll fly over, and as they pass us, they give us a dirty look or one of the colorful hand gestures. I've never seen it personally, but you hear stories of people getting shot or people using their car as a weapon. That's just crazy.

"Four or five years ago, I was on the highway, just driving somewhere with my girlfriend, and this one guy was right on my butt. All of a sudden the car in front of me hit his brake. The guy behind me had no clue I was there. He just slammed into me from the rear and pushed me into the car in front of me.

"We ended up having to go to court, and I had to give a deposition, and when you do that, you have to give what your profession is. The guy that hit me, his lawyer tried to play off of it: 'You're a driving instructor, you should have known better, you should have left more room.' I'm like, 'More room? Your client pushed me seven, eight feet. He didn't even hit his brakes.' It was in the collision report that there were no skid marks from him.

"Probably 97, 98 percent of driving is your eyes, because wherever you look is where you're gonna steer the car. I'll tell my students, 'I want you to look at the curb, but try to keep the car going straight,' and I've never had a student that could do it. I've always had to grab the wheel so we don't end up hitting the curb. And they're like, 'Oh my God, you're right.' And I'm like, 'You should listen to me. I've been doing this a while.'"

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