I just finished my defensive driving class, taken to get my stop sign running spree deleted from my driving record. I made it to municipal court before the court issued a warrant for my arrest. I mention that because in my alcoholic life, I would normally ignore a deadline and then resent the consequences. (“Don’t they understand how busy I am, how complicated my life is? How dare they!?)
I’m not that well because I waited until the last possible day to settle up with the court. I carried the ticket in my purse since I got it, certain that all I’d need to do is call the court to make arrangements to take the class. I read the ticket the night before and realized I had to make a personal appearance.
The woman at the Portland municipal court gave me a list of approved defensive driving schools after I raised my right hand, swore I was telling the truth, and signed an affidavit that said I qualified for a ticket dismissal class. I qualified because I hadn’t taken a class in the past 12 months to get a ticket dismissed.
I have a driver safety class in my distant history; I took one 20+ years ago to get a speeding ticket dismissed. Back then, I lost a Saturday listening to a high school coach alternate between going over basic safety and apologizing for our losing a day off to his class. I didn’t learn much because I wasn’t paying attention and spent most of the day drawing pictures of the other people in my class. We took a test at the end of the class, graded it ourselves, and got a chance to correct answers for extra credit. The class passing rate was 100% with most of us making 100. We all went out for drinks after the class.
When the clerk handed me the list of classes, she leaned closer to me and lowered her voice as she said that “some of these classes cost $25 and some are more expensive, but the judge doesn’t care which one you take as long as it’s on this list.” Good information. The first three classes cost $45 so I might have stopped there assuming they all cost the same. It turns out that all the classes have 2 things in common: they cost at least $25 and they last for 6 hours.
Texas mandates both of those rules. There’s also a standard that the class impart driver information, but that could be subjective. I was ready to report my defensive driving school in retaliation for being boring. There was a moment when I regretted not shelling out $20 more for Comedy Driving class. In the end, I realized that I could do a 30-45 minute unit and take a break. It took me a week to do my 6 hours of class time, but it’s done and my certificate is in the mail for presentation to the City of Portland and Farmers Insurance.’
I learned a few things in that class.
1. Air bags and child seats—Air bags are dangerous if the driver’s chest is less than 12″ from the air bag. I have little old stumpy legs because I’m short stumpy woman and I drive a manual transmission Mazda. My seat is pretty close so I can control the clutch. I am nerd enough to check the chest/air bag difference with my scale ruler that I always carry in case I have to check a plans dimension. My seat position had my chest 9″ from the bag, but it turns out sliding the seat back 4″ makes me safer and makes my knees happier.
I should have known since I have grandchildren who ride in my car that children under 57″ or under 8 years of age must use a child safety seat. Prior to 2010 it was 36″ and 5 years old, but it changed and started being enforced in September, 2010. Another thing I didn’t know is that fines for child safety seat violations include a 15 cent mandatory surcharge which counties send to the Comptroller Child Safety Seat Fund to supply child safety seats to low-income families.
2. Reasons for accidents–Distracted driving is the number one reason for accidents in the Texas. Texting, eating and drinking, talking to other people in the car or on the phone were a few of the things the class mentioned; all of them things that I do regularly as I whip down the road. I believe that I am more competent than anyone else behind the wheel. Perhaps, but probably not good enough to look up a location on the map while driving. The class didn’t mention that one perhaps because they couldn’t conceive of anyone goofy enough to do that.
Speeding, probably while doing at least one of the distractions, and ignoring regulatory signs and signals, like stop signs, are #2 and #3 reasons. Alcohol and drugs contribute to 40% of the fatalities in Texas.
3. Drunk driving—The legal alcohol limit is 0.08 in all states. That means that a 140 lb woman-like me-can possibly drink 2 drinks in an hour before they blow a DUI. Reality check for me was that, pre-sobriety, I drove after considerably more than 2 drinks in an hour. Often, I drove with a child in my car. It was hard to watch the videos and read the stories about those consequences. Jail time and fines would be insignificant if I had caused injury or death to my children and I dismissed that risk with the arrogance that I was driving “just fine.” I wouldn’t have asked someone else to drive because I wouldn’t have wanted them to think I drank too much.
4. Engine fires—If your car catches fire, you are not supposed to open the hood. Even if it’s cool enough to do so. I didn’t realize that. Or maybe I did but the desire to see what it looked like might have outweighed common sense. I’m the kind of person who wants to push the emergency buzzer on elevators and throw the fire alarm switch in an empty corridor. I limit my impulse control to pushing the buttons on all the Singing Elmos at Walmart.
5. High water crossings—My car can float in 12″ of water and be swept off a bridge. That’s not that much water. I wouldn’t think twice about going through that depth in a street and might have chanced it before I watched videos of floods and fatalities. The class also covered how to get out of a submerged vehicle but the process looked dodgey to me and I’m not certain that I’d survive the drowned vehicle to tell you if it works.
I saved a few dollars by taking the defensive driving class. The fine for running a stop sign in Portland, Texas is $168. The court cost for letting me take the class is $106; add $25 for the class and I saved $37. I can take the certificate to my insurance company for up to 10% discount on my auto insurance. My insurance bill is $800 for 12 months; $80 savings for a year or two would be a nice benefit of taking the class. The ripple effect is that I am more mindful of my driving. For a few weeks at least.