Getting into the minivan, my passenger noticed the speeding ticket between the front seats.
“A driving award!” he said.
Because of a story I was working on for Automobile, I’d gone on January 6 to interview this fellow in Hillsdale, the small southern Michigan city about 70 miles from home. A few minutes after setting out early that afternoon, I was written up by a Washtenaw County Sheriff’s deputy for going 60 mph in a 55-mph zone. My actual speed was 72 mph, but she was giving me a break. She was also utterly wasting my time and money. Scio Church Road carries very little traffic. Rather than wreck because of my speed, I was more likely to run over a swan. In 2009, someone did just that a bit farther along this same stretch of road. “Swan friends” created a memorial and, presuming the act was intentional, sought vengeance against the killer.
Meanwhile, besides the awareness that the ticket would be costly, the foremost thought in my mind was skepticism about the efficacy of this type of speed trap. The deputy’s patrol car had been tucked away in the parking lot of Scio Church, an Evangelical Lutheran operation that’s affiliated with the Wisconsin Synod. My skepticism would be supported by a piece in the January issue of DBusiness. The writer delves into the phenomenon of southeastern Michigan communities that have stepped up their ticket writing to offset falling tax revenue. The piece cites a Michigan State Police official, who says “the popular belief that driving faster results in more crashes is not correct.”
Also quoted is the former Oakland County prosecutor, who says speed traps undermine authority: “Law enforcement should not be a profit-making center.”
I managed to keep my mouth shut when receiving the ticket. Soon afterward, I mailed a $120 check to district court.
In early February a letter from the Michigan Department of State offered salvation: “If you take and pass the Basic Driver Improvement Course … the points will not be placed on your driving record and the violation will not be disclosed to insurance companies.”
I studied the list of approved course providers. The Lansing Area Safety Council looked good, so I signed up for the online course at $59.95. It’s prepared by the National Safety Council. (The NSC offers the course for $41.25, so someone—I think an outfit in Troy is involved—has a racket going.) Supposedly requiring four hours, it took closer to eight. It offers directly contrary information about speeding, saying this is the number-one contributor to collisions and results in 12,000 fatalities nationally per year.
Another factoid asserts that seatbelts increase the chances of surviving a collision by more than 50 percent. With 95 percent of Michigan drivers now wearing their seatbelts, I was paying to hear about that irretrievable five percent.
This section of the course goes on to list numerous other statistics:
- 720 fatalities in road construction zones; 31,079 injuries
- 86 killed in crashes involving emergency vehicles; 9521 injured
- School buses (153 dead), trains (219 dead), pedestrians (5600 dead), bicycles (900 dead)
- Motorcycle fatalities up 131 percent
- 1.2 million deer hits, $3050 for the average claim, 204 people dead (no info on the offed ungulates), and Michigan only trails Pennsylvania in the total number of these events
The course’s tone: patronizing. Because you got caught in a speed trap, you must not know very much about driving. You need to learn and practice the National Safety Council’s strategies. The “What If?” strategy helps you stay alert and prepared. What if you’re behind a camper loaded with illegals from Guatemala, and it pulls out and tries to pass a convoy of gasoline tankers in a tunnel? What if Sirhan Sirhan opens fire as you drive by Pleasant Valley State Prison?
And there are formulas. Reflect, Reframe, Refocus. Even after scoring 96 percent on the final exam, I have no idea what that one is for. But don’t confuse those three Rs with the Four Rs when another vehicle heads for you in your lane:
- Read the road
- Drive right
- Reduce speed
- Ride off the road
In other words, swerve into the ditch and hope to miss the tree—just what anyone would do. Hmmm. This pickup is heading right at me. I’ll reach into the glove box for that formula, the Four Rs.
Someone probably got promoted after writing this junk.
The grand finale was a thorough review of road signs, their colors and shapes and meanings. Because you got caught speeding 40 years after acquiring your first driving permit, surely you must need to review how a railroad crossing is marked.
So this is my reward for voting in 2008 for more public safety funding. It’s the same mistake as welcoming an occupation army.