After decades spent having to inform parents of the deaths of their children to car crashes, State Road resident Dan Kiger has dedicated himself to teaching teens, and adults, to be safer drivers behind the wheel.
“I’ve got a special love for the teens and young drivers. There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in a traffic crash,” said Kiger, while sitting in his small classroom at 137A S. Bridge St. in Elkin. “I would love to do something to change that.”
His dedication to keep youth safe behind the wheel goes beyond the state’s required driving instruction curriculum and includes basic maintenance and safety topics like how to change a tire. Kiger is of the opinion, “If you are going to be responsible enough to drive on the road, then you need to be able to maintain the vehicle.”
Kiger spent his entire adult life in traffic safety and law enforcement, joining the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office at the age of 20, making him the youngest deputy in the state at the time, he said.
During the five years he was with the Forsyth agency, Kiger said he and one other deputy were the first to be breathalyzer and radar trained, which was unique for the 1970s. In 1978, he took his skills and joined the North Carolina Highway Patrol, where he remained until he completed his career with the organization in 2003.
“The worst part of my job as a trooper was going to knock on the door and tell a parent they lost their child in a traffic crash,” Kiger said. “Most teenagers think they’re going to live forever.”
He said one in five teens will have an accident in the first six months they are driving and “most of the time, the first teen crash is a single car by themself and they ran off the right side.” Kiger added that the number one cause of teen deaths “are motor vehicle crashes, and for all of us, the biggest thing is distracted driving.
“Ninety-five percent of crashes are not accidents. There is some driver error that contributed,” he said. “When you’re distracted, you’re not paying attention. The number one distractor is cell phones. Kids are getting phones at an early age so by the time they are at driving age, they are attached and now not only are they young and inexperienced drivers, but they are distracted too.
“There is a war going on, and we need to do something to end the needless deaths,” Kiger said.
To help teach that danger of distraction to his students, Kiger said he focuses on instilling the need to be alert and keep eyes on the road. “We’ve got to disconnect and drive. I hope in some way by doing this I can keep some teens alive,” he said of his instruction.
For eight years, after leaving the Highway Patrol, in addition to spending the past 10 years on the Wake Forest University campus police force, Kiger contracted with Elkin City Schools as its driver’s education provider, then last year an out-of-town company under bid him and he lost his contract. Six months ago, Kiger started his private company, License to Live.
Kiger said with years of instruction, making safety presentations and being certified to teach driving through AAA, Hartford Insurance, the North Carolina Justice Academy and the state Division of Motor Vehicles, he is highly qualified to own and operate the business. He is authorized to have up to 29 students in his classroom, but Kiger said he prefers classes that are 12 to 16 students, because it is easier to give them one-on-one help as it is needed.
The students get 30 hours of in-class instruction and six hours behind the wheel, as is required by the state curriculum, but Kiger goes beyond that to provide additional driving time for those who may need extra instruction as well as offering extra teaching that he feels the students need.
“When I don’t have a huge class, I know the students personally and can tailor my teaching to their special needs,” Kiger said.
As far as the extras he includes, Kiger said, “Very few people in the normal school curriculum teach how to change tires, check oil and add oil, check the tread depth, I teach them the colors of fluids so they know what is leaking, the little things you need to know. I try to think we go the extra mile.”
The extra mile includes bringing in guest speakers like mechanics, troopers and insurance agents to talk to students.
He highlights new things that affect drivers like the Move Over Law and the Fender Bender Law, and the fact that if they are younger than 18, they aren’t even allowed to hold a cell phone and be driving. “The state has enhanced a lot of safety by having graduated licensing, they can’t drive at night or with friends,” Kiger said. “Peer pressure is a big thing, and so the state has prohibited that until they are more experienced.”
Also, he said, “Parents should be aware of their own driving habits, because teens pick that up, like driving fast, texting and driving. Parents are examples not only in life, but in driving also.”
As an Elkin area resident and trooper for 30 years, Kiger said he knows “every bump in the road in this area,” so, “if they’re local kids, I’ll take them on routes from their homes to their school or jobs so they know things to look for like problem curves and blind hill crests.”
He said he also makes sure to teach them to parallel park, something many drivers don’t learn anymore, as well as driving through round-abouts and free flowing right turn lanes.
In addition to the driver’s education classes, Kiger teaches classes for court-referred defensive driving, which is required for many on first-time speeding tickets and helps them reduce the points against their license and insurance, saving them money.
Kiger’s upcoming classes include one beginning Monday. For more information on classes, contact License to Live at 336-466-8367 or email Kiger at firstname.lastname@example.org. The business also has a Facebook presence.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.