Becoming a Defensive Driving Ph.D.
Do driving lessons end when you get your license? Not for this driver.
Who says you can’t teach this old female dog new tricks? Oh yes you can.
At least, the National Safety Council can, thanks to their online graduate course in defensive driving, which I had the privilege of taking due to the astute observational skills of the officer on Route 22 just east of Waukegan Road. Because of his keen ability to observe not only the flow of traffic, but also those who absent-mindedly flow over the legally prescribed yellow lines intended to control traffic, I had the opportunity to better myself through adult education. Talk about luck. Thanks, Mr. Policeman.
Now, as a proud graduate of the A-Adams School of Driving, Class of 1976, I’ve already had the pleasure of sitting in a tiny, uncomfortable seat for a set number of hours. I’ve been lured into a false sense of how amusing the learning process can be thanks to a vinyl recording of Bob Newhart doing a stand-up routine, circa 1960, about the perils of teaching student drivers the ropes. I’ve sat rapt, listening to the mono-toned instructor detail the up-up-and-away mandatory pivot of wheels parked on an upward incline, and I’ve studied the diamond and equilateral shaped yellow signs. Not to brag or anything, but I know not to hit the gas when I see a pregnant blind woman with a walker and a baby stroller crossing the street.
Even with this level of expertise, I confess my education didn’t stop at A-Adams. About twelve years ago, due to a small driving incident I’ve successfully repressed beyond retrieval, I found myself in a classroom filled with adults furthering their knowledge of the rules of the road. As a happy coincidence, my sister joined me in class. Apparently driving infractions run in the family. I’m not going to lie. When we finished the class, we were a little miffed that our families didn’t regale us with the proper pomp and circumstance befitting our new status as post-graduate success stories. Whatever. Learning that we should purchase small, anti-deer whistles for our roof racks to help avoid startling large animals that cross the road without looking both ways was celebration enough.
Back on Route 22, after I’d been pulled over, I decided not to point out that I held a master’s degree in driving. Rather, I thought the most prudent action was to cry a little, realize that wasn’t going to change a thing, mutter something quietly that I’m sure I’m not proud of, get out and snap a photo of the pretty lights, and view my newly issued ticket as an opportunity. In other words, I accepted what couldn’t be changed. Ph.D in defensive driving? Bring it on.
When I logged-on to the National Safety Council’s six step driver’s education doctoral program, I didn’t expect much beyond three or four hours of virtual wrist-slapping and lectures. Sure, my best friend Glo, or rather Dr. Glo (since she recently earned her own Ph.D. in driver safety), told me the course was worthwhile. “It’s not so bad,” she promised. That’s what my mother claims right before offering Pepto-Bismol. I was skeptical.
By the time College of Lake County sent me my Internet access information, my enthusiasm had waned. I think they suspected as much, which is why they included the inspirational reminder that “failure to complete the driver safety program as ordered may result in a conviction being entered against your official record….”
Stop right there. As a former teacher, a current mother, and a suburban citizen in (formerly) good standing, I know all about “official records,” which means that I don’t want anything on mine ever ever ever. Where do I begin?
R U A Safe Driver? That’s what the National Safety Council wants to know. Yes I M.
At least, that’s what I thought until I got well into the course work. Did I fully know the Collision Prevention Formula? Could I Recognize hazards, Understand the defenses, and Act correctly, and in time, to all situations? Maybe I did have a few things to learn.
The sheer number of elements to worry about gave me pause. Before I could ever be Road Ready, I needed to accept that I could never control the amount of daylight, the severity of the weather, the conditions of the pavement, or the mix of traffic. I had to learn to manage my distractions, which meant more than adjusting a few mirrors and applying my lipstick before turning on the engine. According to Session #3, I needed to know where I was going before heading out to get there.
Allow me this slight digression. One June morning back in 1983, I drove away from my New Hampshire college campus, eager to get home to Illinois for my summer break. Three hours later, after driving straight into the rising sun, I passed a sign which read “Welcome to Maine.” I’m fairly certain that if there hadn’t been a sign, I might just have kept going until I hit salt water. My point is, I never know where I’m going.
Still, I kept thinking I could become a safer driver up until somewhere in Session #4 where I learned that, “A major cause of aggressive driving is loss of personal control in some aspect of a person’s life.”
And then, “Refrain from driving when you are angry, upset, or tired.”
I hit the pause button on my computer screen and took a moment to digest what I was learning. To wit, no one should drive when 1) she doesn’t know the directions, 2) she’s not entirely in control of every aspect of her life, and 3) if she’s angry, upset, or tired, which means if she’s breathing.
There were a few other points the National Safety Council makes, but really, they’re incidental. What I know, now that I’m a proud graduate of their on-line defensive driving course, is simple. First, driving can be really dangerous. Second, I’m never getting behind the wheel again. And third, my new honorific is Dr. Sal.
Unfortunately, I can’t prescribe anything other than caution.