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Awesome Men Throughout History: Amos Neyhart

We just got our first snow of the season here in Baltimore, and as predicted, the whole city went crazy and forgot how to drive. Baltimore drivers aren’t much good behind the wheel at the best of times, so you can imagine what we’re like when conditions aren’t ideal.

amos1That notwithstanding, we’re all still lucky to live in a first world nation with mandatory, comprehensive driver’s education. Amos E. Neyhart, who is this week’s Awesome Man Throughout History, is the guy you should thank for that.

Well, you should thank his estate, since Amos died in 1990. But we’ll get to that.

Amos Neyhart became the father of American driver’s ed in 1931, when he was an assistant professor at Penn State. A drunk driver hit his parked car, and that pissed him off so much that he decided, right then and there, that teenagers needed proper driving instruction.

Driver’s ed was already an institution in England—the British School of Motoring had been around since 1910—but there was nothing like it in the US, and Neyhart figured that parents couldn’t teach their own children to drive because a) they lacked the necessary objectivity, and b) they were crappy drivers themselves, so all they were really doing was passing bad habits down to their kids.

Determined to help Americans learn to drive, Neyhart taught the nation’s first driver education course to volunteer students from State College High School. The learner car was Neyman’s own 1929 Graham-Paige, which he’d outfitted with a dual brake and clutch system. He put together a formal course in 1933, followed by a teacher preparation course and a specialized textbook, cleverly titled The Safe Operation of an Automobile.

Neyhart’s teachings weren’t limited to the able-bodied, either. He also prepared courses for people with disabilities, and—perhaps because he was still bitter about that drunk hit ‘n run—warned his students about how drugs and alcohol impaired their driving abilities.

Neyhart’s efforts were a crashing success. By 1968, driver’s ed was offered in over 71% of American high schools, and the New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles confirmed that people who took those courses were involved in fewer accidents and driving violations.

Neyhart became an advisor and consultant for AAA, as well as the director of Penn State’s Institute of Public Safety in Continuing Education. He was also put on national traffic safety committees by three US presidents: Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

So yeah, that’s Amos Neyhart. Think of him the next time you signal before turning and/or put some reckless young whippersnappers in line.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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