Various members of the Shima family have worked as driving instructors since 1959. Pictured are Craig Shima, left, Val Chow, Doris Shima, Michael Shima and Gary Shima.

Driving school sets
family’s direction

Two generations work at the
Shimas' 45-year-old business

As if one back seat driver weren't enough, there are four in the car when the Shima family of driving instructors rides together.


"It's a riot! Everyone is instructing: 'Stop behind the line! Head check! Head check!'" said Val Chow, explaining that a "head check" means turning your head before changing lanes.

Chow is one of three siblings carrying on the family business created by parents Michael and Doris Shima. A-Shima's Driving School Inc. -- the "A" was added to get the company name listed first in the phone book -- began in 1959 on the recommendation of a friend who had a similar business.

The senior Shimas have been semi-retired for five or six years, but still teach a few times a week.

The couple spends much of their free time involved with the Great Commission Fellowship Church, letting sons Gary and Craig Shima and daughter Chow carry the teaching load. Daughter Lynn is the only Shima child who doesn't teach.

Chow, who has been teaching in the state Department of Transportation's driver's education program for about 10 years, said, "I love it so much I would do it almost for free."

"We grew up hearing about it," she said. Naturally, their parents taught them how to drive, "so we will be eternally their students," she added.

"Two major things they pounded into us for so many years" were that "speeding does hurt" and "don't follow too close," she said.

Doris said she always tells her students: "The most important thing is defensive driving. Always look far and high. You gotta anticipate and see the whole picture. Peripheral vision is so important."

Comparing driving conditions over the past 40 years, Doris said, "It was much safer on the roads years ago."

There's more "road rage" today, and drivers are "less polite and very impatient. You have to have good reflexes and react fast." Accidents today are mainly caused by "people (who) go through red lights."

Teenagers in particular have always liked to go fast. "I tell them that in one split second they can make a mistake that will affect you, your family, the rest of your life. You can get killed instantly. You think you can brake fast and control the car, but you can't," she said.

Doris has vivid memories of the many "nerve-racking close calls" in her career. But the one she will never forget involved teaching a student on the steep curves of Tantalus Drive.

He "stepped on the gas instead of the brake. I thought, 'Oh, my God! We're gonna die!' " She slammed on the brakes on the passenger's side of the car, stopping it with the front end two inches over the cliff. "It was so scary I won't forget it for the rest of my life. It was one of the times I thought -- I don't want to teach already.

"You have to be able to react and anticipate how long it will take a student to react," and move quickly in case the student doesn't, she added.

When Shima started teaching, instructors' cars had a steering wheel on the passenger side, but now cars are so compact they can reach over and grab the wheel when they see an accident about to happen, Doris said.

They all still teach in cars with a second set of brakes, though, because it would be too dangerous not to, she added.

Chow said she loves her job because it involves "helping people of many different ages who have a great need to drive," such as a woman who hasn't driven for "umpteen years" and now has to learn because her husband died.

Doris said many of her clients, the eldest of whom was 72, suddenly have to take care of a spouse who has become very ill, and "driving is a wonderful thing" that enables them to take their loved ones to the hospital.

Gary Shima, a full-time instructor for the Hawaii Job Corps, has to deal with students who speak English as a second language, so he needs a lot of patience and frequently uses diagrams or pictures to teach.

He said his parents were very patient and effective teachers.

The lessons he learned from them stuck with him, because he noted that the worst thing he ever did as a driver was "I forgot to read the parking sign warning my car would be towed away" -- and it was.

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