Skip to content

What I Didn’t Learn in Traffic School

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Most people are usually sleeping-in on Saturday mornings. At 7AM, I was standing in line holding my pants as I waited to place all metal objects in the x-ray machine, belt included. The airport is worse. Here, at least we leave our shoes and jackets on in the interest of speed. Once inside room S4 of the Laguna Niguel court house, I picked up a clip board and book, sat in the front row ready to soak up a days worth of corrective actions.

“Take off your hats. This is a court of law,” our instuctor Cliff said.

I thought the judge made it a court of law and this was just a room for Saturday school. But who was I to argue, this was Cliff’s moment to shine.

“Let’s get started shall we?”

If you had any question about our society being dumbed down, I highly recommend going to traffic school. Cliff must have preached the instructions, repeated the instructions and demonstrated them again and again for 45 minutes. You don’t do that unless you’ve learned you have to. People that looked smart and could speak English still got them wrong. Think I’m being prejudice? There was a woman there that couldn’t speak English, got everything wrong that was asked of her but still passed the course. If you wonder why there is road rage in Los Angeles, there’s one answer.

This wasn’t going to deter me though. For 7 hours and 15 minutes this was my moment. I was going to learn how such a smart plan on paper — re-educating thousands of drivers when they get tickets in trade for no points on their insurance — could be such a disappointment.

It became apparent pretty quick that this was less about learning and more about listening to retiree Cliff relive his glory days for the sixth time this year. We watched old 20/20 videos with Jane Pauley about how the car is a weapon but you don’t get the book thrown at your as if you used a gun… good advice for somebody in that room. We filled in our work books and answered out loud. But what was most entertaining was listening to a disgruntled old man prop himself up as the know-it-all when clearly he was way out of touch.

Case in point, I girl got up and felt compelled to tell us, maybe as her own form of therapy, that she hit and killed somebody earlier that year. We were all in shock that she would come out in public about it. Turns out a drunk walker crossed in front of her at a green light at night. She didn’t see him coming and hit him. He blew a 3.5 or something rediculous, she was let go. But Cliff immediately went into his mental files and related the story to something else he had heard and told her she did right by the entire thing, as if he knew all the details, was the expert and maybe even her attorney. Me on the other hand, when we left, I cut in front of her in the parking lot knowing full-well she wasn’t about to hit another one.

The real issue I had with Cliff was when I brought up a recent article from Car and Driver by Patrck Bedard. I simply asked the question “are traffic accidents going up or down at camera intersections?” Oh, going down said Cliff.

“That’s not what I’ve read.”
“Oh? Where did you read that?” Cliff replied.

“In Car and Driver.”

“Oh, they have their facts wrong.”

What?? The number one car magazine in the world doesn’t fact check before putting out a story? I decided the proper thing to do was take three deep breathes, like I’m doing while I write, and get the article over our lunch break. Instead of humiliating him in front of the class, I would politely show him the article afterwards so we could have an open discussion.

After class, I quoted the article. “A report last year, funded by the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation, said that ‘cameras were associated with an increase in total crashes.’ Six Virginia cities with re-light cameras were studied. Injury crashes were down five percent in one and up from six to 89 percent in the others. Rear enders were up in all the cities, by 136 percent in Falls Church nd 139 percent in Arlington.”

Before I could get Federal Highway Admin… out of my mouth, Cliff interrupted and said “oh we get all our data from the California Highway Patrol, not the Feds.”

Oh, I said and went to paragraph 2. “Crashes were up in Stockton, California, too, from an average of 14 per year before to more than 20 per year in the 2004-06 period after red-light cameras were installed.”

I turned the article around to give it to him. He shoved it back at me, turned around and walked away without hardly saying a word.

Cliff, this Buds for you. The man who takes himself and his job so seriously, until the moving just outside his comfort zone. Then it all falls apart and traffic school becomes another wasted Saturday.