Driver’s Education Combines Teaching Skills, Gift of Gab
Ironically, for someone who teaches new drivers how to avoid accidents, Auburn’s Sofia Hotlen got into the driver’s ed business by accident.
A self-described perennial student, the native of Chile ping-ponged across the globe, touching down in her early years in Switzerland, Brazil, England and, finally, the United States. On her office wall on High Street in Downtown Auburn, Hotlen has degrees from San Jose State University and Sacramento State University in human resources compensation management. She speaks four languages – Spanish, English, French and Portuguese.
But instead of working in human resources, Hotlen said she unexpectedly teamed up with her brother, Miguel Guerrero’s driver education school and has not looked back.
For the garrulous driving instructor, life in the passenger seat next to teen motorists with little experience on the road hasn’t been a bad ride at all.
“I like people,” Hotlen said. “I like to tell stories. And most of the kids I teach are good kids.”
Menley Woolhether, a Placer High student learning the basics of driving from Hotlen, said her teacher has provided her with clear guidance on tricky skills like backing up in a straight line and how to handle a smaller car.
“She’s awesome – super funny and a great instructor,” Woolhether said.
After a quarter of a century in business – most of it out of a High Street storefront a quick drive away to Placer High School to pick up students for lessons – Hotlen says that she’s instructed more than 20,000 students. The school itself has had up to 10 instructors teaching in all parts of Placer County and part of Nevada County but now has two teachers, besides Hotlen.
“I’m now having students whose parents were students of mine,” Hotlen said. “This year, I had five or six.”
Coy on her age – Hotlen says she is at retirement age and defines that as 62 or above – she said that she hopes to continue to teach.
To mark the 25th anniversary, Hotlen Driving School is holding an open house from 12:30-1:30 p.m. and 3-4:30 p.m., Wednesday with free drinks, snacks and special offers. The office is located at 1119 High St.
Hotlen said that over the 25 years next to fledgling drivers, she’s never had an accident but there have been close calls.
One memorable brush with catastrophe occurred along Auburn Ravine Road at a railroad crossing. With a train bearing down, a student’s food was frozen on the brake and all entreaties by Hotlen were futile.
Hotlen recalled that the train was about five to seven seconds from hitting the car when she stepped on the gas enough to move the car off the tracks.
Unlike many driver’s ed schools, who don’t install an optional accelerator pedal on the instructor’s side, Hotlen cars have them as an added safety feature, she said.
“It was the scariest day of my life,” Hotlen said. “We could have died. I almost quit that day.”
But Hotlen has carried on, carving out a 25-year career that started by accident.