DUNKERTON, Iowa — From a distance, the driver's education car seemed well back of Guido Miller's tractor-trailer.
One after another of instructor Craig Harrison's students climbed into the cab for a trucker's perspective. Kacey Fettkether, 14, was among the first.
"OK, so where's the car?" she asked.
"It's not an optical illusion. It is back there," Miller said.
Harrison's personal vehicle, parked on the cab's right side, also almost disappeared.
The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports (http://bit.ly/1qKk1Y9 ) Miller's message for the young drivers outside Dunkerton High School included other topics besides a semi's blind spots. He also described the physics of an 80,000-pound truck compared to a 3,100-pound car and talked about the hazards of passing a trailer on the right.
The theme, though, was broader.
"Think when you're out here driving. Drive to protect yourself," Miller said.
Miller addresses the issues with plenty of credibility. He started driving semis in 1997 and these days logs up to 3,000 miles per week for FirstFleet. He previously also served as a safety instructor for Schneider National and for FirstFleet.
So with that much windshield time, Miller witnesses plenty of drivers risking everything to make a phone call or text or, at least in their minds, save a few seconds on the road.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't have an incident. Yesterday there were two," he said.
From Miller's viewpoint, distracted and aggressive driving are the leading culprits.
"And it's on the increase," he said.
Statistics compiled by the Iowa Department of Transportation from 2001 to 2012 support Miller's statement.
According to DOT records, drivers described as inattentive or distracted because of a cell phone or other device were responsible for 28 fatal traffic accidents during that time period. The total amount of carnage, though, is much larger.
The DOT also recorded 3,880 injuries because of distracted drivers in crashes with nearly 15,200 vehicles involved.
The number of fatalities over the period ranged from 0 in 2004 to 5 in 2003 and 2009. The number of injuries each year in Iowa also remained fairly constant, from a low of 281 in 2003 to a high of 379 in 2009.
But as Miller observed, the number of crashes attributed to distracted drivers has increased. According to DOT statistics, there were 518 such incidents in 2001 but 715 in 2012.
Miller has a vested interest in this particular set of would-be drivers. His 15-year-old son, Kyle, is among those working toward his license.
"I would hate to get that phone call," Miller said.
Miller and a motorist narrowly escaped injury during a crash in 1998, his only accident. The other driver, realizing too late that she was in the wrong lane, tried to dart in front of Miller's semi at an interchange on Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids.
She got only as far as the truck's bumper.
"I pushed her down the interstate about 100 yards," Miller said.
Which is one reason he includes self-control as an important virtue for safe drivers.
"When they get impatient, that's when they make stupid mistakes," Miller said.
Instructor Craig Harrison has taught driver's ed for 18 summers. He endorses the idea of illustrating rather than just talking about driving concepts. So he has worked with other truck drivers and gotten his students close to big rigs.
"Doing it gives significantly higher retention for students," Harrison said.
Fettkether said she picked up some valuable information.
"It was neat. It was inspiring. I learned a lot," she said.
In particular, the vanishing car made an impression.
"I thought with the mirrors you could see almost everything, but you can't," Fettkether said.
Dennis Magee writes for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.