In March of 2020, when COVID-19 forced large parts of the
North Country to socially distance and go remote, many of us were
off the road and staying home. As the world has reopened, and
people returned to their lives behind the wheel, it has become clear
that the time off has not – how can I put this lightly – improved the
driving skills of our collective whole. From something as egregious
as blowing through a stop light to something minor like giving the
person in front of us a bit more room, there are driving habits
we can all work on. That is where Rick Poticker, owner of
Northern New York Driving Academy (NNYDA), can be of service.
Poticker’s career began in 1995 with motorcycle safety courses, growing into the official formation of the NNYDA in 2009. The Academy has offered a litany of classes over the years including defensive driving, boater safety, in-car instruction, and pre-license classes. At its height, NNYDA grew to 10 employees and held multiple contracts at the county and state level. Classes were in demand and he had cornered the market, but he made clear income is not his main motivation. ‘To work in this industry, it has to be a calling,” he emphasized.
Patience – in all types of teaching – is an essential trait. Understanding the distinct differences between the types of students in his classes, is what sets Poticker apart. “Teens are like sponges, they tend to absorb everything; while adults, who have been out of the learning environment for a while, require more patience. The key with adults is to facilitate rather than lecture and draw the information out of them.” This is especially true in the motorcycle program, which is made up principally of baby boomers and bucket listers who are looking to join the club. The course provides a fast track for participants. If passed, students are provided with a road test waiver on their way to being licensed. But passing the class doesn’t necessarily mean these new bikers are road ready or that the risks associated with motorcycling have been eliminated. They still need to practice the safety techniques taught in Poticker’s classes going forward. “Our program is based on a building block approach. It’s a lifelong learning process,” he observed.
Poticker also offers driving instruction to those with physical and mental disabilities. “I teach individuals with a range of disabilities, anything from autism to those with Down’s Syndrome or brain damage,” he said. It’s clear that helping these students – even though there is extra patience required – is a key driver for Poticker. “They have a true need and that’s the reason I continue to teach,’ he said.
While he admits it is an entirely different process, it is clear that Poticker not only considers these individuals to be good drivers, but better than many others in certain situations. ‘They’re as safe as any other driver on the road. Even though they have limitations, they know what they are, and they stay within them.
Like many local businesses, Poticker had to call a few audibles in the face of COVID-19. Class offerings have been intentionally scaled back and more of NNYDA’s focus has moved to online classes. While there is no substitute for in- person instruction when it comes to driver safety, their team has found a way to replicate the classroom setting online and cater to student needs during the pandemic. One of the biggest differences brought on by COVID? “People have become less patient, just driving angry and not putting up with anyone’s mistakes. I’ve had more people honk at the driving school car than I’ve ever had. We need to work on our tolerance.”
What makes a good driver? Poticker’s advice is simple. “The best drivers have good habits. And while good habits tend to stem from awareness – think anticipating to brake when someone doesn’t see you – that awareness extends to our emotional and mental state as well. Simply put, driving angry or driving to ‘blow off steam’ might lead to dangerous situations on the road. While the pandemic has challenged us all in different ways, we would do well to take stock of ourselves before we hit the road, and take care of each other out there. There are drivers who only have a few weeks of experience. Seasoned drivers should keep that in mind.”
So, whether it’s a teen driver in need of tutelage, an uncle who has always wanted to ride a motorcycle or a family member who just isn’t good at driving, there is help available here in the North Country!
Northern NY Driving Academy
823 Mason St.
Morrisonville, NY 12962