Speeding ticket leads to the indefensible stupidity of Safety Council’s ‘defensive driving’ course

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.”

Scio Church is mercilessly exploited by sheriff's deputies as a speed trap. Using the church's lot, they obscure their patrol cars, sitting about where this BMW had pulled over to make a call. Baggy Paragraphs photo.

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?

The typical traffic load on Scio Church Road. I think nothing of driving around 70 mph here.

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:

  1. Read the road
  2. Drive right
  3. Reduce speed
  4. 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.

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6 thoughts on “Speeding ticket leads to the indefensible stupidity of Safety Council’s ‘defensive driving’ course

  1. You are absolutely right. I took another, similar, course for the same reason. This one was from the American Safety Council and costs $35. In is maybe 20% OK and the rest is monumentally insipid drivel and, to make it even better, it has minimum times per section. You can easily complete any section in 1/2 the allotted time (that’s even if you are very slow), but you cannot take the required quiz after each section until the full allotted time has passed. Some of these sections are 50 minutes long and they mean it! You get done in 15-20 minutes? Well that’s too bad. Hang around another half hour twiddling your thumbs. Going to just go off for that 30 minutes? Not so fast, they have you answer a personal question periodically to make sure you are still sitting there. No answer and you get logged off. It is absolutely enraging. The slide deck is professionally produced, unlike some other courses, but even given that, someone should be severely beaten about the head and shoulders and then punished for coming up with this enraging course.

  2. Safety my foot these courses are retarded as are the people who designed it. I agree 100% with & think this a complete waste of money. Now as a result we have a bunch of idiots out there driving too slow and doing dumb stuff causing panic and delays.

  3. Took the same course, was thinking how condescending they were the entire time. Agree with Chuck Farley that only 20% was useful. Of course you can’t complain, because you have already been tagged as an enemy of the state.

    Did you notice how many of their quizzes had BS answers? They show you a video, and you have to guess what they are thinking…which may or may not have any connection to reality.

  4. The National Safety Council writes the traffic “laws,” which are not actually law, rather unratified municipal ordinances or “Proposals”(Google “What is a Uniform Law”) In 1946, President Truman addressed this private corporation stating, “you can buy a license to drive a car for twenty-five cents at the corner drug store. It’s a revenue-raising measure. It isn’t used for safety at all.” Since 1913, the NSC, consisting of insurance, auto, and big oil executives, judges, lawyers, police agencies and Governors have manufactured statistics, absurd propaganda and concocted “proposed laws” out of imaginary “necessity” so police can write tickets, we pay, get points and then have to pay the NSC for their retarded course to get them removed, resulting in millions in kickbacks in exchange for Federal Highway Grants due to imaginary “Injury” to infrastructure. Now, MADD is selling DUI so people have to “take a course by them and make a donation to MADD.” The interstate is Federal Jurisdiction and policy has no force of law outside of regulation that can only include commercial drivers/motor carriers which can only be enforced by State Highway Patrol. Remember the US Constitution designated that the Navigable Waters are the “Public Highways” which are not the Interstates, ..”Space, the Final Frontier, these are the VOYAGES of the star SHIP, Enterprise (Free Enterprise).” For more absurd statistics and how Stephen King got the idea for Christine from Truman’s “evil, self-propelled automobiles killing billions at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/safety01.cfm..
    (Try filing for an Exemption with your state revenue department and note that am Appeal is an automatic dismissal)

  5. The course I’m taking is currently playing a mandatory video in the background. The video is telling me how to check my engine oil, jump start a car, etc. I have over twenty years in the auto industry as an engineer and I have to sit through this crap. All because Wayne County police stepped up patrols on Hines Drive while I-96 is under construction and is nailing people for driving slightly over the speed limit.

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