Thursday, February 20, 2014

Four Hours to New Driving Skills

I was punished for driving too quickly.  After paying the fee and scanning and submitting my driver's license and the citation, I was given the code to unlock four hours of driving instruction.

Four hours. It's better than the eight hours required by the physical class. I could pause at any time; it was nice to know that I wouldn't be penalized for bathroom breaks.  I had not less than four and no more than four and a half hours to complete the reading and viewing and then to take the test.  My computers decided to balk at the task, and, after installing a new mouse and then fleeing to the laptop at the kitchen table, I plunged ahead. I took notes as I went along, not only to remind me of the Arizona facts on which I would be tested, but to share with you what I learned.

Actually, it was often quite interesting.  I now know how to test my shock absorbers (push down hard on the front of the car; if it bounces more than twice, the shocks are shot) and my tire tread (push a Lincoln penny into the tread, head first; if the tread reaches Abe's head, the tires are okay). I know that TBG ought to get the crack in his windshield repaired, because the smallest imperfection can shatter, even in a minor collision. I learned to coast and use the brakes lightly if I have a catastrophic tire failure, and to start my manual transmission in second gear if I'm stuck in the snow or mud.

There were lessons in basic cornering, covering the apex of the turn and appropriate pedal strategies. At times, it was as comprehensive as a pre-racetrack session. At others, they addressed the issues more commonly experienced - emotional disturbance, road rage, positioning the driver's seat, seat belt usage and air bag safety.  I have to bring a ruler out to The Schnozz; 10" is the recommended distance between the center of the steering wheel and my breastbone and I have no idea if I'm too close or too far or just right. I learned how to position the seat belt low over my pelvis, using my strong skeletal structure to keep me in place.  There were instructions for pregnant women, which I passed on immediately to Little Cuter who responded that the same instructions were presented to her by the nurse at her first office visit.  Times have changed; no one ever mentioned positioning the belt to the side of the abdomen when I was carrying her or her brother. 

I learned that, in an emergency, you should position your hands so that neither palm crosses the midline of the steering wheel, grasp firmly, and guide yourself to safety.  I learned the mechanics of soft tires losing traction on wet roads, and spent an inordinate amount of time watching the skidding and hydroplaning videos.  I was reminded to stomp my ABS and steer into the skid (although they said "aim the front of the car in the direction in which you want it to go, also called 'steering into the skid'"). I learned how dangerous it is to travel over the speed limit, or under the speed limit by more than five miles per hour.  

Much attention was paid to emotional disturbances, which, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, are more serious a distraction than using a cell phone.  Many paragraphs were presented with facts and figures and suggestions like do not get behind the wheel if you are upset. The data was especially chilling for teen drivers, but I flashed to the slowpokes in the left lanes as I approach the hospital down the road.  I always give them room and respect, because I know that their hearts and their brains are on a surgical ward or in a recovery room and not on the road before them.

I paused to try to download a tract they recommended, but the link was not found. I was interested in the title, if nothing else - Anger: A Long Walk or The San Diego Freeway. Since I find myself taking out my frustrations on inanimate objects, I thought that NIMH brochure might be helpful.  Alas, it is no where to be found.

There were some Oh, dear God moments, too.  

I'm to carry basic tools, including a fire extinguisher in my car.  Really?  I don't think so.  If there's a fire, I'm getting out of there, not putting it out.  That's why there are firefighters in the world.  My basic tools, unlike their list which included a wrench and a hammer and tire chains, consist of pen, paper, water, tweezers and Amster's tool for cutting my seat belt and breaking a window.  If I need anything else, I'll call AAA.

Every week, I am to ensure that my windshield wiper motor is working and that there are no leaks in my fuel system.  In case I needed it, Figure 1 displayed a line drawing of an oil can with several drops falling from the spout.  They told me not to pass a school bus with flashing lights, and told me what to do if I were to decide to forego my shoulder strap.  I was stunned; if you're not wearing a seatbelt why bother with all the rest of the safety tips.  You're road kill in a collision.

They warned me that hitting a large immovable object such as a bridge abutment, a wall or a tree would stop my forward motion and transfer all that energy into my car.  They told me to aim for the sandbags at the base of the bridge.  They didn't give me any suggestions about the tree or the wall. I was beginning to lose patience with that page, and when I came to an older person of 50 years I clicked through to another section.  If 50 is old, what am I, just shy of 62?

There were grammatical errors galore, including references to emergency brake downs and Inspect Your Brakes Regularly and Maintained as Appropriate which is so bollixed up in capitalizations and parallel structure that I moved right along to this piece of brilliance
If the lane you are driving in has a thicker broken white line than the lane you are in.....
and this one
Send your vehicle in for tuning when....
I usually have to drive my vehicle to the shop.  I am quite interested in the vehicle they are referencing. I'd love to tell The Schnozz to get to the repair shop for a tune up. Perhaps they are positing a chauffeur. Whatever their intentions, the grammatical confusion helped to pass the time. The clock at the top of the screen counted off the minutes passed and displayed those to come.  Sixty seconds never felt so long.

There were pieces that were contrary to what Mr. Sodemann taught me in Driver's Ed back in high school, like moving away from a vehicle if it is disabled. We were taught to stay inside because you are safer when protected by all that metal. There were abbreviations which were not immediately recognizable - OBDS, BTW, LOS, POT - and obvious statements that beggared the imagination; It is not a surprise that manual transmission cars do not use automatic transmission fluid. It would have been nice to be able to print out some of the charts they provided; I'd have laminated the Preventive Car Maintenance List and posted it on the garage wall if Control+C were available.  Alas, to prevent cheating on the test, there is no copying allowed.

And, there were pieces that made me laugh out loud. Warning! Your Sexual Productivity Can Be Affected by Alcohol kept me going for fifteen or twenty minutes.  In my defense, this was in hour three and I was beginning to feel the strain.  Space management skills are critical to safe driving led me to take this picture of my desk
and wonder if they meant in general or just on the road.  I'm hoping it's the latter, because this place is a mess. I complimented myself on knowing that I should establish a comfort zone around the vehicle, which I have called The Cone of Silence, for reasons lost in the past.  The recommendation to practice Commentary Driving (saying aloud what you're seeing, verbally planning ahead) sent me straight to Daddooooo and our Sunday drives to the grandparents.  Little Cuter encouraged me to avoid that particular tip, and I think she's right.  On the other hand, I do repeat Mr. Sodemann's mantra every time I parallel park (line it up, mirror to mirror, back straight, turn at the bumper, and YOU'RE IN!).

The ultimate expression of the utility of the exercise was made evident to me as I drove to the boonies to stroll with Brenda Starr.  How to position your vehicle in a pack of moving vehicles told me to move to the back of the pack, get in the right lane, keep a four second distance between myself and the next car, and slow down two to three miles per hour.  They promised that the pack would move away, that I could speed up to the limit again, and there would be no cars around me.  It was true, as they promised, that the next pack caught up to me, but they passed me by and there I was, alone on the road.  

When I suggested this strategy to TBG he laughed, shook his head, and said Left and and leave 'em in my dust.

That's the kind of attitude that got me sentenced to traffic school in the first place. If the last few days are any indication, my behavior has been altered just a touch.... just enough to keep me out of the hands of the law.... I hope.


  1. OMG, too funny. The bus one is a pet-peeve of mine. In fact, this morning, a kid driving an Escalade in my neighborhood didn't stop for the bus I was putting little man on. I swear, one day, I'm going to stop in the middle of the road and put my hand up and give them an earful. Hubby has done it to a pizza guy speeding through our neighborhood. The guy flicked my husband off and then he and several other neighbors called the pizza place and the sheriff's office. This was during the summer with lots of children on the street.

    Going to traffic school is never fun, but at least you could do it at home. Here in Virginia, you have to go sit in a classroom for eight hours. NOT Fun.

    Have a great day.

    Megan xxx


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