Meet the man who makes driver’s ed memorable for Park City’s students
October 2, 2018
The car with the "Student Driver" sticker on the bumper holds three nervous Park City teens.
Instructor Dan Hunter is telling the teen behind the wheel where to turn while keeping a light-hearted conversation going with the students in the backseat. They round the corner and reach a sudden four-way stop. The driver is caught off guard and begins to plow through the intersection. Hunter slams the brake on the passenger side of the car, laughs and says "Gotcha!" before explaining how long a driver must remain at rest before proceeding through a stop sign.
While an intense moment for the other passengers, for Hunter it was just another day at work.
Hunter has been doing the thing most parents dread — teaching teenagers how to drive — since 2004. He works for the Blue Ribbon Driving School, which is only a short walk away from Park City High School. While not his initial career choice, he has continued to do it for more than a decade because it allows him to tap into his passion for teaching.
It may seem like a dangerous profession, but Hunter has only been in one car accident with a student during 14 years of instructing inexperienced drivers. Close calls, though, like when students almost drive through a stop sign, are more common. Many students can recall a time when Hunter had to use his passenger-side brake to stop drivers from making a mistake. Junior Ella Ball, for instance, recalls an especially memorable incident.
"At a stop sign before an intersection, the driver didn't yield to the other cars because she thought they also had a stop sign, and she went forward into the intersection," she said, "so Dan had to save my life."
Recommended Stories For You
Before becoming a driving instructor, Hunter taught history at a private school called The Benjamin Franklin Academy in Portland, Oregon; Cedar City and Park City. When the school closed, Hunter was forced to find a new career. He had begun pursuing a gift importing business when a friend of his, who had just opened a thriving driving school in Orem, asked if he would be willing to help out instructing driver's ed. Hunter decided that it would be a good transition from teaching.
"It kind of fit right in, being with kids and young people," he said.
In the years since, Hunter has spent countless hours in the car with students. He enjoys how that aspect of his job allows him to get to know Park City's young people.
"It's just fun talking to the kids about things that are going on and throwing in my two bits," he said.
Park City High School students have come to know Hunter for his sociable, funny personality.
"Sometimes he's really serious and other times he just lays out dad-style jokes," senior Scott McMullin said.
Students also appreciate Hunter's knack for keeping driver's ed from becoming monotonous. For example, he teaches his students a trick for changing lanes he calls "smogicizing." Junior Jenna Nagie says it's definitely something she will remember.
"SMOG — it means Signal, check Mirrors, look Over your shoulder, Go!" she said.
Ball remembers Hunter instructing a student driver to make a stop at a Wendy's drive-through during a long lesson.
"We got hungry while we were doing our observation hours," she said.
Hunter likes to have fun with his students but said he also does his best to prepare them by giving them hypothetical scenarios on the road. Nagie said that those kinds of lessons are what helped her the most.
"I think he's really good at explaining and giving you situations to help you understand what you should and shouldn't do," she said.
Hunter worries that too many young drivers fail to see their surrounding, and he views correcting that problem as one of his most important responsibilities.
"Trying to get them to see the car, see the motorcycle before they pull out in front instead of thinking they're the only ones on the road," he said.
Hunter also sees the importance of teaching students how to drive in different parts of town, or even out of town.
"We go all over — Old Town, Deer Valley, Prospector, Park Meadows, Jeremy Ranch, we've even gone out to Salt Lake and out in the Uintas and various places," he said. Elise Heddens, a junior at Park City High School, is one of the four Heddens children who had Hunter as a driving instructor. Memories that the siblings made with Hunter were often a fun topic of conversation while she was in driving school.
"He's basically taught everyone in Park City so he knows what he's doing, what our surroundings are and what to expect in different seasons, and he's really consistent with every student," Heddens said.
Blue Ribbon Driving School's proximity to the high school, as well as Hunter's reputation for being an entertaining instructor, have resulted in a lengthy waiting list of students eager to take his course.
They're in luck. Hunter intends to teach driver's education for as long as he can.
"I have no immediate plans to retire," he said. "As long as I'm healthy, I'm planning on teaching in Park City for at least the next 10 years."