HARTINGTON — Over 500 students.
Ron Rolfes has been the drivers ed teacher in Hartington and Wynot for 17 years now and he says he has taught at least 500 teenagers how to drive as they prepared to get their drivers license for the first time.
Rolfes teaches at Wynot during the school year, and holds summer classes in Hartington. Teaching for 17 years now, he has been at it long enough now that his current students weren’t born when he started doing this. His students can be as young as 14, since in Nebraska you can have a school or learners permit at that age.
“It’s affiliated with the schools, but I actually run the program,” said Rolfes. “The state has regulations and you have to enter these people into the state database after they finish Drivers Ed. Then when they go to get their license it shows up on the screen.”
His classes range in size, but most students go through the class because it is a lot more reasonable than parents filling out timecards of 50 hours worth of practice driving with their child.
Some students learned to drive growing up on the farm, others have never been behind the wheel, but Rolfes says he always tries to take the pressure off of the student behind the wheel.
“I try to stay calm and be relaxed,” said Rolfes. “I try to pass that on to my students because if you get excited and yell at them then they get excited and keep making mistakes.”
Rolfes has a good track record as well. In 17 years he has only been in two accidents. He says one of them was in Wynot during the winter time and the car spun around three times. He made sure the driver practiced that scenario again though to show what to do in hazardous conditions.
“Whenever we make a mistake we make sure to practice that situation again and tell them what they should have done.”
Other than communicating with the driver, Rolfes has a brake pedal that he can also use if needed. It comes in handy since speed is often the biggest issue he faces with eager drivers. He tries to make sure that these drivers do not get overconfident and understand the risks that come with driving, like that one in four drivers will have an accident in the first year.
“The funny thing about in class is they sit at a table and I ask which of the four will have the accident and they all start pointing fingers at each other,” said Rolfes.
Keeping the mood light is key, both in the classroom and on the road. Before Rolfes will take the student into the car, he holds a class that goes through the drivers manual and the rules of the road.
Rolfes noted that he makes sure to instill confidence in the drivers of his class, and that he still has former students approach him saying that they are being good on the roads. Over the years, Rolfes has used multiple cars for his class, but recently there was quite the improvement.
“We got a real nice one this year,” said Rolfes. “We have a 2013 Chevy Envoy with all the bells and whistles on it. It has a backup camera and everything. We have never had something that nice, usually it is a older Impala and I lease them from Pearson and return it at the end of the summer.”
The car says ‘Student Driver’ on the back and sides, so if you see it on the roads this summer, make sure to give the new drivers some extra space as they learn the ropes of the road.