When young drivers slide behind the wheel for the first time and hit Lawrence roads during the summer, just about anything can turn up in the car.
"We just got a little too close to the curb, and the tree branches came in through the window," Amber Steimle said Tuesday, after completing her fourth week of driver's education. "Our instructor reached out and grabbed a handful of trees."
Such is life during the summer 2007 edition of driver's education.
Steimle, who will be a sophomore this fall at Free State High School, is one of 350 drivers-in-training who enrolled in a driver's education course offered by the Lawrence school district.
Students spend half of their time during the four-week course in a Free State High School classroom, preparing for the written portion of a test they must pass to receive their license. The other half of the time, they're behind the wheel - some for their first time.
"A lot of kids think driving with the seat as far back as you can go, tilted back with one hand at the top of the steering wheel, is how you're supposed to drive," said head instructor Brenda Soldani, who's taught driving since 1991. "They don't learn it from their parents. They learn it from their friends and TV shows.
"In here, you do it the way we want you to do it - both hands on the wheel, sitting up - and we go from there."
Students must log 50 hours of driving practice before they can secure a restricted license, but they'll spend only about four or five hours behind the wheel during the entire driver's education session.
Still, that's enough time for them to figure out that the streets hold some hazards.
Several students said they are afraid of driving in roundabouts. Others said highway driving causes them the most stress.
"Merging onto the highway, getting up to a high speed really fast," Steimle said.
"I think the safety of my passengers, I worry about that a lot," said Steimle's older sister, Bug Steimle, who will be a senior this fall. "The safety of me, I'm OK with, because I can deal with that, but the people that are driving with me and trust me, it's a little worrisome."
But Patrick Kelly, who oversees the driver's education program for the school district, worries about all young drivers.
"For me, it's watching the teen drivers on the road," he said. "You want to make sure that they're well-prepared. I don't think they're always watching what's going on. Cell phone drivers scare me to death, you know. So I think those are all the things we have to prepare for."
And Kelly can spot the ingredients for disaster.
"I saw a kid the other day with balloons in the car and I thought, 'Oh boy, that's going to be a problem.'"