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Five decades and counting for teaching teens how to drive

Oxford resident Lee Noftz has taught drivers training for 54 years. (click for larger version)
July 07, 2010 - It may sound hard to believe, but Lee Noftz has been teaching teenagers to drive for 54 years and he's still alive to tell the tale.

"It's fun being around the kids and it gives you a reason to get up in the morning, too," said the Oxford resident, who will turn 80 on July 21.

Noftz began teaching drivers training in Brown City back in August 1956. He continued to do so when he moved to Oxford in 1963.

As a school teacher and coach, it was a great way to supplement his income.

Even after he retired as Oxford's athletic director, a post he held from 1970-92, Noftz continued working as a driving instructor to give him and his wife a little extra spending cash for their travels.

Today, he continues teaching Oxford kids as a driving instructor for Courtesy Driving School, based in Shelby Township.

"I really enjoy still being associated with the kids," Noftz said. "This is something they really want, so you don't have attitude problems to deal with."

Over the years, Noftz estimated he's given road instruction to somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 students.

Based on his experience, he indicated that kids haven't changed much from the 1950s to today.

"I don't think there's a noticeable difference," he said. "They're pretty much the same today as they were then."

Noftz plans to continue teaching drivers training as long as his health remains good and he still enjoys his work.

"It's good for me," he said.

Amazingly, after more than five decades of sitting in the passenger seat while a beginner takes the wheel, Noftz has only been in three car accidents, all of them caused by other drivers, not his students.

Two were rear-collisions and one was a T-bone crash caused by a mother who was actually being taught to drive by her daughter.

Rarely has Noftz been nervous during one of his thousands of training drives.

"I'm sure there have been times I have been, but for the most part, I have a pretty good idea what to expect out of the kids," he said.

When it comes to teaching, Noftz is a big believer in showing students exactly how he wants things done, from steering to parking techniques.

"I think it's important that you demonstrate what you expect them to do," he said.

And as long as it does not put anyone in any danger, Noftz will allow students to make mistakes, so they can learn from them.

"They'll remember those situations a lot better than if I just correct them and don't let them make that mistake," he said. "If they do make a mistake, I explain to them how they could have corrected it."

When driving with Noftz, the only sound students hear is that of his voice. There's no radio allowed.

"It's just a distraction that we don't need," he said. "They need to listen to me, not the radio."

"One of the biggest problems I see with (students and newly-licensed drivers) is the ability to make good decisions," Noftz explained. "Any distraction they have makes it more difficult for them to think. They just don't have the background and experience to base their decision-making on."

Noftz doesn't have a problem with the new state law that went into effect July 1, prohibiting motorists from sending text messages while they drive.

"I don't know how in the world you could do it (texting). I can't even do it if I'm not driving," he said. "It seems to me that takes a lot more concentration than just talking to somebody on the phone."

Although there's no law against it, Noftz believes beginning drivers should not be talking on a cell phone either.

"I think it's wise not to because it certainly is a distraction," he said. "Even after they have their license, I would discourage it with them."

So what's the best advice Noftz can give to beginning drivers?

"Know the laws, know your vehicle and know your limitations," he said.

He also encouraged beginning drivers to pay attention when someone else is driving. Watch the driver, watch traffic and watch how the driver reacts to different traffic situations.

What advice does he have for parents?

"Be patient with your kids," said Noftz, who realizes that's easier said than done.

"I think I'm as a guilty as anyone else," he said. "You're more demanding of your own children than we probably are of a student driver."

He encouraged parents to "set a good example."

"There's probably nothing better than that," Noftz said. "When you're driving, be a good driver and if you are, your son or daughter's probably going to be a good driver, too."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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