Nancy Edmonds Hanson
It sounds like a rapper’s name: Heavy D. But Eric Weaver, who has taught young drivers to steer a straight path for more than 20 years, says his Heavy D Driving School is named for a principle that goes far beyond the beat.
“My dad was a state trooper. He talked about defensive driving all the time,” says Weaver, a career educator who devotes his out-of-school hours to training. “So did my wife Sara’s father. ‘Heavy on the defense’ – we both grew up hearing about becoming good defensive drivers.
“So when I started teaching beginning drivers back in 1999, that became my own main message, too.”
It’s a year-round mission for Eric, a Moorhead father of five who teaches full-time in the Fargo school system. He and his two part-time instructors, Mike Argall and Bob Simmons, are deep in another summer of behind-the-wheel training on Fargo-Moorhead’s city streets and rural roadways. First, though, their students – primarily teens, but with a good number of adults taking on the challenge of driving – must complete intense online sessions of instruction and discussion. Only then, and when they have passed a 100-question test, can they apply for their learning permits and begin to learn the difference between the gas pedal and the brake.
Minnesota and North Dakota laws on licensure vary, but both require a combination of classroom study and actual driving; the three instructors are certified and bonded to teach in both. Minnesotans who complete 10 three-hour sessions and pass a vision test can apply for their learner’s permits when they turn 15. At 16, they face the driver’s exam, a combination of written and in-person testing. Then comes a provisional license they must carry for a year; at that point, with a clean driving record, they’re fully licensed drivers.
Heavy D classroom instruction, which begins again next week, is currently presented online, a hold-over from the pandemic. Meanwhile, all three instructors can be spotted on streets around the city, riding shotgun beside sometimes-nervous first-timers in bright red cars prominently marked “student driver.”
“The beauty of teaching driving in Fargo-Moorhead is that I can take them to intersections where I guarantee they’ll see some things happening that shouldn’t,” Eric says. One is the corner of 10th Street and NP Avenue. “We park, get out and just watch. In five minutes, they’ll see so many people turning in the wrong lanes or coming at us in the wrong direction … they learn a lot about paying attention.”
Eric and his instructors are all bonded and certified driving educators on both sides of the river. Argall and Simmons are retired Cass County deputies. He himself was taught to drive by his trooper father, learning out in the fields and in the family’s plow truck clearing the long approach to their home outside Deer Creek, Minnesota. At 15 he spent long hours on ride-alongs in Dad’s patrol car. Later, he completed a minor in drivers education at St. Cloud State University while teaching in the Wadena-Deer Creek school system.
He completed a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and physical ed at Mayville State University, as well as a master’s in teaching with technology at Valley City State. He currently teaches at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School in Fargo, where he also coaches football and wrestling. He has been with the Fargo school system for 12 years.
His driving instruction, though, reflects more than his education. “It’s what I learned afterwards – a more deliberate approach,” he explains. “Anybody can steer and throttle. Most of all, it’s thinking and paying attention that keep you out of trouble.”
So far, only the oldest of Eric and Sara’s children has scored her license. Maggie, 16, got her license last month. “She felt she was under a lot of pressure,” he concedes, “but it went really well.” His next oldest, 13-year-old Charlie, is a different story. “He’s counting the days until he can get his permit,” Eric observes. “He’s come with me to all the classes seven times – has taken the quizzes, joined the discussions, the whole thing. He could probably teach the course himself at this point.” Talking driving is a bit premature with the three youngest siblings, Gibb, 9, Emory, 7 and Annie, 4.
The driving school fulfills a dream Eric has harbored since his teen days. “I always wanted to have my own business,” he confides. While Sara handles the behind-the-scenes side of the business, he has often devoted all his out-of-school time to his students.
And though teaching and coaching have come out on top, career-wise, Heavy D ranks just as high on his list. He loves driving, and he revels in watching his students master skills that once intimidated them, like slippery winter driving or negotiating tough U-turn on gravel: “I just love looking over and seeing that big smile when they manage it. I tell them, ‘Don’t smile so big, or somebody will think you’re doing something you’re having fun.’”
For more information on the Heavy D Driving School, go to www.heavyddriving.com.