Thursday, November 5, 2009

Driver School

I recently had the um, pleasure, of attending Driver School. I didn’t have to go. I chose to attend. Like most things in life, there were other options: 1) pay the $135 citation for ‘failure to yield ‘and gain 4 points on an otherwise flawless driving record; 2) appear in City Court in front of a judge, plead ’not guilty’ and receive a date to return and attempt to prove not guilty-ness (in my case, without benefit of evidence like witnesses or photos); 3) attend Driver School at the cost of $120 and avoid the points; or 4) blow it all off and live a paranoid life of fear. I chose Door Number 3. I was actually looking forward to the class, because really, who couldn’t use a refresher on the rules of the road?

On the designated Saturday morning at 7:50, I arrived at the old building housing City Council Chambers/City Court, located on Public Square beyond an ornate fountain that sits on the narrow strip of grass designated as Public Square. The clerk who took my reservation a couple weeks prior had told me the doors are locked at 8:00 and tardy people are not only not admitted, they are assessed an additional fine.

It struck me as amusing that two class attendees, in their haste to arrive on time, parked facing the wrong way on the street, one in front of me, the other behind me. I hoped this was a driving issue that would be addressed in the class, because people seem to park like that downtown all the time.

The capacity of Council Chambers/ City Court was shown on the wall as 109. The room was about 90% full when I arrived, with a mix of drivers of all ages, evenly split between male and female. At $120 a head, the early session was pulling in over $10 grand for the city, and the encore performance scheduled for 10:00 that day was sold-out two weeks in advance. There had been two classes on Tuesday night of that week. I wonder if they run this many people through driver school every month.

At show-time, an officer stood at the front of the room and in a monotone voice, introduced himself and the other officer in attendance (who he referred to as “Mr.Personality”). The next 45 minutes delivered poor quality videos of dramatic car crashes and assorted police chases (usually European) and a droning delivery of a variety of topics – the proper use of turn signals (use them); the legal limit for DUI (.08 – attainable at a pace of more than one drink per hour, depending upon one’s body size); seat belt rules (yes, they can pull you over for not wearing a seat belt!); child car seat rules (age and weight guidelines change every year); speed traps; school bus laws; the owner’s responsibility even if their car is driven by someone else.

The sobriety check point speech was interesting. He mentioned if a driver approaches a checkpoint and does a u-turn, they won’t be pursued. This is good to know, because even though there is not a single sign stating so, u-turns are illegal in this city, and any other time you will get pulled over for a riveting roadside lecture and/or a souvenir ticket.

The most frustrating part of the class was the series of bar charts with microscopic font that illustrated some point about accident statistics that Officer Monotone was droning on about. Even if some other nerd like myself was interested in the statistics, there was no way to decipher the information displayed in a font size usually reserved for legal footnotes in lengthy, complicated contracts. Yeah, I often read those, too.

My favorite topic, aside from the Officer Monotone’s (questionable) commentary concerning his own (potentially questionable) beer consumption which he confessed to exceed the one beer per hour rate (WHY would he even tell us that?), was the new red light cameras which capture images of drivers running red lights “from four unique angles.” When you receive your ticket from the city, it is accompanied by a web link to imagery of the traffic offense “from four unique angles.” Officer Monotone said a driver can try and fight the charge, but the transgression will be shown “right here in this courtroom, on these many screens … from four unique angles.” He sure did love that phrase … “from four unique angles.” I now sit at stop lights trying to calculate the four unique angles.

And after 45 minutes, with no discussion of proper use of turn lanes (I’m pretty sure they are NOT high-speed travel lanes, people!), proper four-way-stop procedures, or other stuff that would have been helpful based on the crazy driving that goes on every day, he announced we were done, THEN he asked if there were any questions. One poor dude had questions, but the answers couldn’t be heard over the sounds of 100 people racing for the exits. I had even comtemplated asking my "Is it acceptable to park facing the wrong way on the street?" question, but it was hopeless at that point -- I knew the answer and the clueless transgressors had already sprinted for the door.

Driver school could have been worse, but it could also have been a lot more interesting and informative. But it’s over now ... as long as I can watch out for those left hand turns.

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