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Dick Riedberger with his car. He has taught thousands of kids to drive. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE
Dick Riedberger with his car. He has taught thousands of kids to drive. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE

Riedberger retires from driver's ed

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501

Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Helping thousands of area drivers earn their licenses over the course of his career, one local man is retiring and hanging up his instructing car keys.

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In the span of his 37 years as an instructor, Dick Riedberger has seen many fledgling drivers come behind the wheel of the Drivers Education vehicle. “I would guess I had between 2,500 and 3,000,” Riedberger said of his pupils, estimating he instructed roughly 100 of the 185 students that came through the program annually.

“I applied for a teaching position in Detroit Lakes, and one of their requirements that they needed to have in that teacher was a Drivers Ed certificate,” he said of his start the reason for pursuing certification from Moorhead State.

Riedberger taught in the physical education, health, and social studies programs for 22 years. “The last 15 years I’ve been retired from the classroom, and devoted my full time to Drivers Ed,” he said.

Spending an average of five hours each day with students behind the wheel, Riedberger and his wife Kathy felt it was time to retire rather than renew his certification when it expired at the end of June.

In his career, Riedberger has witnessed many driving errors and close calls on the road. He recalled one incident where a man made a complete circle in an intersection on a main street, completely ignoring the traffic around him. On one of his last days, Riedberger’s student narrowly missed running into a distracted driver that cut through the intersection, and Riedberger’s advice to be aware of cross traffic helped to prevent an accident.

“It was the only time I ever leaned over and really laid on that horn,” he said, of the hopes of getting the driver’s attention.

“Sometimes I’ve made a couple of mistakes,” Riedberger conceded. “It’s almost impossible to be perfect.” One such incident included a slip into the ditch on a snowy day. “I told the student not to drive over 40 miles per hour, and I should’ve said 30, so it was strictly my fault,” he said. “I was so embarrassed, standing out there with the Drivers Ed car and cars going by, and there was no place to hide.”

With patience and the willingness to put in extra effort to help his students succeed, Riedberger can only recall a handful of his students that have failed to earn their licenses. He and Bruce Douglas once spent over 17 combined hours trying to assist a student in reaching proficiency.

“If we get students who haven’t had the opportunity to practice before they come to us, it makes it hard for us to give them all they need in the six hours that we have,” Riedberger said of one of the greatest challenges of instructing. 

While some might think that being locked into a moving vehicle with a brand new driver might be a harrowing experience, Riedberger said, “I wouldn’t be as comfortable as I am if I didn’t have that brake on my side.”

Riedberger still has some valuable advice to share with both new and experienced drivers. Even when approaching a green light, he cautioned, “before you get to that intersection, you glance left and right to make sure there are no emergency vehicles or any vehicle that you need to yield to.”

This simple practice can be crucial in preventing major collisions and avoiding someone running a red light, and is one of the rules of the road Riedberger emphasizes the most.

“When you put on your seatbelt, you check everyone in your vehicle (for buckled seatbelts), that’s the best time to do it,” he also said of one of the first things he teaches students. This practice may help to save lives in future accidents, and is a habit that is worth forming.

Riedberger advises that when turning right at a stop light, drivers should check traffic approaching from the left as well as traffic directly across the road, in case vehicles in front of you have exclusively been given a green light.

“It’s sometimes hard for people to pick up new laws,” Riedberger said of the “Zipper Law” in Minnesota. It now requires traffic to merge in an every-other vehicle zipper pattern when approaching construction or constricting lanes.

Riedberger thanked his fellow instructors Bruce Douglas, Steve Sundby, Mark Greenig, and Lowell Nicholas, as well as secretary Kitti Kive Lex, and the secretaries and guidance counselors of the high school. “They’re special people that really helped,” he added.

When it came to his own children and driving, Riedberger laughed and said, “well, I didn’t teach them in the car. I had Mr. Douglas and Mr. Sundby teach my kids. Somebody else would probably do a better job with my kids than myself.”

It’s a phenomenon that many parents and children have likely experienced during those stressful first attempts behind the wheel. 

In almost four decades of serving Drivers Ed, Riedberger has been impressed by the community of drivers in the area. “The people in DL have been more than courteous to us when they realize there’s a driver in there,” he said of bringing students in the labeled drivers ed vehicle through the streets. “I really appreciate the driving population here.”

Though he’s now retired from instructing new students, Riedberger’s legacy as a teacher continues to manifest itself through the safe driving practices of those he has helped hit the road after earning their licenses.

Thanks to him, the roads are a little safer for everyone.

Libby Larson | DL-Online

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