By RICK WATSON
Larry Wilson of Mountain Brook teaches a serious subject. “Take a left here,” he’ll sometimes tell one of his students in the Mountain Brook Community Driver’s Education class. The students will instinctively try to turn left. The problem is, he told them to turn the wrong way down a one-way street.
He stops them before they actually turn, and then tells them they have to be more mindful. They often protest saying, “You told me to turn.” “No, your friends told you to turn,” Wilson will respond. The lesson is, just because someone tells you to do something, it’s the young driver’s responsibility to make sure it’s safe to do it.
“Sometimes I’ll point to the steering wheel and tell them to turn on their straight signal.” They almost always take their eyes off the road to look for the “straight signal.” He said it’s just another technique he uses as a learning tool.
In addition to driving in traffic, Wilson teaches young drivers about hand placement on the wheels and how to operate all the car’s equipment like wipers, turn signals, hazard lights and parking brakes.
“Driving is a test where 99 out of a 100 is not good enough,” he said. “You need to make 100 percent.”
“I tell the kids I want them to know how to drive correctly so they won’t run into me,” he joked, although the last fender bender Wilson had was with a former student.
Wilson, who has a master’s degree in drivers education, landed the job with Mountain Brook Community Education seven years ago when the former instructor retired. They contacted him, and he jumped at the chance since he lives close enough to Mountain Brook High School to walk if he wanted to.
He teaches every day of the week in Mountain Brook except for Sunday. For the last 18 years, he’s also taught at Thompson High School in Shelby County when school is in session.
The goal of the community driver’s education program is to teach students the skills needed to drive safely and defensively and to pass their driver’s test.
Wilson said a lot of kids are very nervous when they start taking the course, but he works hard to put them at ease while teaching them how to drive.
Carlee Duggan took driver’s ed from Wilson several years ago and said he made her feel comfortable behind the wheel. “I haven’t had an accident yet,” she said.
Wilson always has to be on his toes when he’s out with the students. “Just today, we were on the south side of town when a truck came over on us,” he said. He had to grab the wheel and take evasive maneuvers to keep from having an accident.
The student didn’t have the skills or experience to react, but he said the incident served a valuable lesson. He stresses to his student drivers that you have to expect anything while driving. Defensive driving is essential, according to Wilson.
Wilson said that many adults don’t know how to drive correctly, and even the ones who do know often can’t teach their kids how to drive. That’s why he’s there.
Dr. Dale Wisely, director of student services at Mountain Brook Schools and author of ParentingTeenDrivers.com, said that Larry Wilson’s driving lessons program is one of the most popular offerings they have at Mountain Brook Community Education. “He is highly sought after by our area parents,” he said.
Wilson said he could not do his job without Janice Grammer and Wisely, who schedule and administer the program in Mountain Brook.
Even after all these years, Larry Wilson still loves his work. He is married to Marion, his wife of 40 years. Their daughter, Virginia, and her husband, Cotton Volman, also live in Mountain Brook. Wilson looks forward to teaching his granddaughters Brannon and Gigi to drive one day.