Beside the wheel

Laurene Knox

Photo By Larry Dalton

Laurene Knox, who runs the A1 Driving School in Midtown, has clocked thousands of miles in the passenger seat with one foot ready to slam on the other brake pedal on her side of the car. But in spite of a few close calls and fender benders, it’s been a good ride. Her school’s 10 instructors tool around town with 400 behind-the-wheel students a month, which racks up an amazing 60,000 miles a year on each of the four zippy little red Toyotas in her fleet. And Knox knows her lessons well: She has a perfect driving record.

What’s the hardest thing for students to learn?

They have a lot of problems with bike lanes. Why? I don’t know. They just don’t want to merge into them properly. And they fail their [Department of Motor Vehicles] tests on that.

Are most of your students kids?

The ones who do driver’s ed. are 15 years old and up, because you only have to be 15 to have a permit but 16 to have a license.

Have students had many accidents?

Well, we’ve had a couple of fender benders. Over 10 years of work, we’ve had a couple—most of them someone else’s fault. Like, we were at a red light, and someone just rear-ended us. Nothing

major where anyone was hurt. And we’re fully covered.

What precautions do you take while you’re out driving?

It’s interesting because when I’m teaching a student behind the wheel, there’ll be a little portion where it’s almost like I have to drive for them. Even though they have the gas, we have the dual brakes as the instructor, and we can actually control the car from the passenger seat if we have to. We have to look over our shoulder for them. They don’t know those fundamentals. There’s instances where the student will be driving, we’ll slam on the brakes, they have no idea why, they finally look up and realize what’s going on, and we’ve prevented a total accident.

What’s a close call you’ve had?

I had this really big boy, a teenager. He played football. I think he was the captain of the football team. And he was like 6-5, a huge guy. He was driving, and I told him, “You know, if I have to grab the wheel, you need to let me have it, because you’re double my size.” And there was an instant when I had to grab the wheel—not major, just to guide us—and he just completely took his hands off the wheel instead of letting me guide and keeping his hands on it. And I was telling him, “Please put your hands on the wheel!”

Is it stressful?

Oh, yeah. Especially if you have a student who doesn’t speak English well or doesn’t comprehend or you’re telling them the same thing a million times, and they’re going, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh,” and not doing it.


I’ve had some students that don’t really want to be taught. They think they already know how to drive. And so everything I’m telling them, they’re nodding their head like, “I know, I know, I know,” but they’re doing nothing like what I’m saying.

How do you handle it?

We stay very calm. There’s been a few students who’ve really annoyed me in that manner, and so I was kind of quiet during some of the lesson because I was getting nowhere with them. And then there’s some students where we pull over, and I say, “Look, I’m your instructor. I’m responsible if you fail or pass at the DMV, and your parents are paying for this. You need to listen. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know what I’m talking about.”

Do you see your old students much?

Oh, yeah, I see them driving down the road right next to me, and they’re always hooting and hollering and waving and excited. Some of them work at the mall, and when I see them, they’ll run out from behind the counter and hug me. They’re so excited, because I was their instructor in driver’s ed, and they have a license now.

Is there a routine to where you go?

There’s no set route, because students live in various places. But we all know Sacramento and outlying areas like the back of our hand. And part of our lesson plan is that they do downtown driving. That’s one of the things that makes us different, because we’re centrally located downtown. Part of our lesson plan is downtown driving because every day, you hear people saying, “Oh, no. I don’t do downtown.” They’re intimidated by driving downtown because of the one-way streets and things like that, and that’s so annoying to us.

What’s important to learn downtown?

The one-way streets.