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CARROLL: Thankful for Driver’s Education
David Carroll
David Carroll is a news anchor for WRCB in Chattanooga, Tenn.

I got some nice responses to a recent column about financial literacy classes in high schools. Many of you asked, “Where was that class when I needed it?” My thoughts exactly.

I have had the opposite reaction when reading news stories about tragedies that seem to recur each spring. In some areas, driver education classes are not around today when we need them.

High school principals tell me, “When prom season arrives, with graduation around the corner, a lot of our kids are injured in car crashes. And too often, we lose some of them.”

Oddly enough, in my 1970s high school days in rural Alabama, we had a great driver education program. What is considered a luxury in 2024 was commonplace back when we lacked so many things. Our air conditioning was often inadequate, our yearbook was produced in an abandoned school bus, and we only had two sports from which to choose. But thanks to Smith Chevrolet we had a brand new Chevy Nova. We also had an excellent driving teacher, Coach C.B. Strickland. When I would brag about my little country school having a driver ed class, my big city cousins would say, “That’s nice. But happens when the mule dies?”

In our region today, access to driver ed classes vary from state to state, and from county to county. Some Alabama districts offer the course. There are somewhat fewer in Georgia, and about half in Tennessee. The quality of instruction also varies. It depends on the commitment of the school, and the ability of the teacher.

Coach Strickland taught me some basics that I still use today. Lock the doors. Buckle the seat belt. Adjust the mirrors. A stop sign doesn’t mean “slow down.” Expect other drivers to make mistakes so you won’t be surprised. Turn on the headlights when it’s raining. Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you. Play it safe with school buses and railroad tracks. Don’t look only for cars when entering a roadway, watch out for motorcycles too.

He told us, “This is the most important class you will take. Not everybody is going to use algebra and physics every day. But they will drive a car, and this class could save your life.”

Some of my friends in other schools said their driver ed class was “party time.” I’ve always been grateful that was not the case at my school.

When it came time to get my driver’s license, my dad drove me to the county courthouse in Scottsboro, Alabama. Unlike my little community 35 miles away, Scottsboro had red lights, 4-way stops, and actual traffic.

I had been under the impression that the state trooper who administered the driving test would do so in his vehicle, which was surely a basic sedan with an automatic transmission. That’s all I had ever driven. It was not to be. That day, my dad needed to pick up some feed while in Scottsboro, so we took his Ford pickup truck. He did the driving since I had never driven a straight shift, nor did I have any desire to do so.

That day, the trooper’s car was unavailable, so he gave the test in the vehicle we had brought. I told him I couldn’t drive a straight shift. He said, “I’ll show you how to get it going, and you can take it from there.” What followed was a comedy of errors. In my nervousness about the gearshift and clutch, I soon had every possible function going at the same time. Headlights, blinkers, wipers, defroster, you name it.

Then came the parallel parking test. I had practiced in the school’s Chevy Nova, and wasn’t good at it. How could I do it in this big ol’ Ford pickup? Thankfully, on the street where we did the test, there were only two cars parked, one at the very beginning and the other at the opposite end. There was enough space to land a Boeing 737. Lucky me!

In a time when we pour money into schools for the latest technology, it seems strange that a class that could keep teens alive is relatively low on the priority list.

David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and his new book “I Won’t Be Your Escape Goat” is available on his website, You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at