Story of a… Driving Instructor

Bonnie Frank, 55, steers Orlando’s motorists of tomorrow in the right direction.

“I was actually a schoolteacher, and one summer I saw a newspaper ad for driving instructors. So I applied and it just went from there. I liked it because it was a different aspect of teaching.’’

An instructor for the Florida Safety Council for eight years, Frank teaches three to four 2-hour lessons a day—both behind the wheel and in the classroom. “I’ve helped about a thousand students pass their driving test. You’d be surprised how many don’t even know the difference between the gas pedal and the brake when they first come in.” 

Frank gets the best out of her students by nudging them out of their comfort zone. “If a student is comfortable driving in a neighborhood, it’s time to move beyond that. It will probably be a little scary for them at first, but I let them know that I wouldn’t put them on real roads if I thought they couldn’t handle it.”

“Instructors don’t have a steering wheel or a gas pedal; all we get is a brake. So we have to be prepared to grab the wheel if the student starts to drift or gets scared. I had one girl who was an excellent driver. We got onto I-4 in the middle lane, and trucks came up on both sides of us. She panicked and let go of the wheel. I grabbed it and told her, ‘You have no other choice but to do this. You can do it.’ She calmed down and was able to get over to the far right lane to relax.”

“It’s funny, because I’m always calm in those kind of situations. But when my sons were growing up, one of the other instructors had to teach them how to drive. I was the emotionally attached mom screaming at them in the car.’’

“Occasionally, we’ll get some cocky students who come in and say, ‘I don’t need to be here. I already know how to drive.’ And within the first 20 minutes, we find out they really don’t know as much as they thought they did.’’

Driven to distraction: “Once, a police officer was following us for the longest time. The girl driving was doing everything right, so we were confused about why he kept following us. The student started panicking, and then the officer pulled us over—just to tell us we were doing a great job. That was pretty cool.’’

“I help a lot of older people. I’ll get a widow who has never driven before; only her husband drove. And now she’s got a car and wants to be able to drive to the doctor’s office or the grocery store. It’s really rewarding to be able to help give them some independence.’’

“I always tell my students, ‘You’re not just driving for you; you’re driving for everybody else.’ You have to be aware of who’s talking on the phone or who’s texting. I tell them their best defense is keeping a safe distance and being aware of what’s around them.’’

Categories: People