Manhattan teenagers are preparing for a new step toward independence as they wrap up what they’ve learned in drivers education, taking their big tests this week.
Some of the 120 summer drivers ed students describe themselves as confident drivers, having already started on the road after obtaining their learner’s permits after their 14th birthdays.
Others, regardless of experience, are a little nervous driving something that weighs more than 1,000 pounds.
Adrian Laudemann, a soon-tobe sophomore at Manhattan High School, just turned 15 last week. He practiced driving under instructor Tony Andrade on Thursday and was getting ready to drive to Griffith Park.
“I get nervous at times,” Laudemann said. He said right now the hardest part about driving is maintaining speed while looking over his shoulder to change lanes.
The drivers education students are still early in practice. They’ll learn more advanced skills including parallel parking starting this week.
Drivers education supervisor Brad Wille said he’s been teaching the course for 33 years in part because he likes seeing the transformation that takes place once a teenager has gone through it.
“You’re dealing with young men and young ladies and you’re helping mold them into some great potential,” Wille said. “You’ve got a student who has no confidence whatsoever, they come in dragging their head and by the end of the session, for whatever reason, it just seems they’ve got that perkiness. They feel very confident about themselves,” he said. “They can drive a car 75 miles per hour if they’re good about it, they can parallel park, they can make a lane change, they can do the interaction. They can do all sorts of things,” he said.
However, Wille said mastering the questions on the tests isn’t the most difficult thing about learning to drive. The most difficult thing is becoming a young adult with the responsibility to do no harm on the road.
“It’s not necessarily the work,” he said. ‘It’s not necessarily the test. Forget that. Anybody can take a test.’
Wille said it’s about being prepared for adult matters like when an officer asks for a license and registration when a young driver gets pulled over.
“When they come through here they still have a little bit of that seventh- and eighth-grade mentality,’ he said. It’s one thing for high-school students act like middle-schoolers in math class, he said, ‘but you can’t be a seventh or an eighth-grader when you’re on the road.”
The second batch of summer drivers ed students will be done on July 18 after about a month of work.
The students have to pass 11 tests, three outside assignments and 12 driving lessons to drive independently.
“I was a little nervous the first time but it’s pretty laid back,” Meg Auten, 14, said. Auten said she got her learner’s permit during spring break and began to learn to drive with her parents.
“I don’t like driving down to Keats,” she said. ‘That’s just because it’s pretty fast and it’s just one lane. I can do better in two lanes. I’m not as nervous.’
Once Auten and the rest of her driver’s ed class have passed the course, they can get their restricted permits at age 15, having held the learner’s permit for a year and having obtained a minimum of 25 hours of supervised driving with a legally licensed adult age 21 or older.
With the age 14 learner’s permit, teens can only drive with a licensed adult 21 or older, but when the restricted license is obtained a year later, they can drive with siblings as passengers, but only to and from school and work when not with an adult.
At age 16, an updated permit restricts new drivers from driving at night between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., but at 17, they get full privileges.
Wille said that at the beginning of drivers ed he’ll ask the students, “How many of you are tired of being treated like a kid?” he said.
Traditionally, drivers ed is a concrete coming-of-age marker.
“This class, as soon as you walk through the door, you’re considered a young adult,” Wille said.