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Douglas Whitmore, a lifelong Evanston resident with 23 years experience as a state trooper, is the founder of the new American Defensive Driving School, 1640 Orrington Ave. He says his experience patrolling state highways and seeing all varieties of accidents will help him teach students about safe driving. The goal is to “try to teach students to avoid some of the deadly mistakes on the road,” he says.
Mr. Whitmore patrolled highway 1-294 for 10 years and handled more than 1,000 accidents. As a state trooper, Mr. Whitmore says he knows “what causes people to get hurt on the roadway.” He says that with his experience he can teach kids to be the best defensive drivers they can be.
The school is the only privately operated driving school in Evanston and the only driving school in the state that is AAA-certified. American Defensive currently has about 150 Evanston Township High School students enrolled. The school can handle up to 35 students each session. In a given session, students receive 30 hours of classroom instruction, six hours of driving and six hours of observation.
“In our group sessions, we discuss a number of topics on defensive driving, including how to handle driving in snow and what to do in the event of a crash,” said Mr. Whitmore. “We also show our students where the spare tire is and where the dipstick is, because a lot of kids don’t know where those things are.”
In addition, the classroom has interactive videos, which “provide the closest experience to driving without actually driving. It’s very, very conducive to learning,” Mr. Whitmore says. “The curriculum is up-to-date, there are a ton more videos and our instructors are state-certified.” Prices for the driving course range from $450-530, depending on whether a student is a teenager, an adult, or a Northwestern student.
American Defensive attempts to show students that “there are things you should never do on the road. Some will listen, some will not. If we can save a few people from accidents and [teach them to] be safe drivers, there’s nothing more gratifying than that,” said Mr. Whitmore, who teaches with two other instructors. Toni Jamieson, American Defensive’s office manager, encouraged him to open the school.
Growing up in Evanston, Mr. Whitmore attended Dewey and Nichols and graduated from ETHS in 1975. During high school he played football, baseball and ran track. “I was also Homecoming King in ’75, though there were four others, so it was not that big a deal,” he says laughing.
After attending Milton College, Mr. Whitmore played defensive back and cornerback for the United States Football League and the Canadian Football League. He then went back to Nichols as a student teacher and taught students with learning disabilities. He became a state trooper in June 1986 and is currently working in the recruitment office in Des Plaines.
“I am in the twilight of my career,” he says, noting that he is set to retire in three years. He adds he has “seen about everything, from working on the SWAT team to working for the gang tactical unit.” During a leave of absence from the force, he served as Stevie Wonder’s bodyguard for a year and a half.
With his law enforcement career coming to an end, Mr. Whitmore says he hopes to use his experiences to teach students how to drive safely and well.