I was driving along I-95 north of Augusta two weeks ago when I saw a dot far up the road that resembled a state trooper.
My Interstate instincts, if you will, caused me to let off the gas immediately and coast to a nice 65ish speed as I neared the cruiser. All seemed well as I passed by, even when he did slowly pull out behind me. After all, I was totally legal, right?
And then the blue lights went on.
Turns out it wasn’t the trooper who caught me driving 81 in a 65; actually, it was the police helicopter aiming his radar gun down at me.
Alas, so much for my instincts. “Now how am I going to speed in stealth?” I wondered. I guess the answer is that you just don’t.
My record has been pretty clear the past few years – in fact, I’d accumulated three credits as a result – so the six points that this charge added against my license actually became three. But I didn’t want any points on my license, particularly since the closer you get to 12, the closer you come to losing your license.
So I resorted to what can be both a blessing and a bane to apprehended lead-footed drivers: the state’s Driving Dynamics course.
I’d taken this five-hour, two-night course before – back during my reckless college days I was busted for speeding twice in one year – so you can imagine that I sort of felt like I was repeating fourth grade.
But I’ve gotta admit, the course was a lot more interesting this time around. Even if it was in the same room where I took the SATs 13 years before, which had been about as fun as scrubbing your back with termites.
Instead of a by-the-book spiel from an instructor who’d never strayed from the law in his life, this time we had a guy who felt more like “one of us.” Like us, he loathed the driver who sits at the green light lost in thought while five vehicles behind him are laying on the horn, or the motorist who drives 60 in the passing lane on the Interstate when there’s nobody to pass.
God knows I’m far from a perfect driver. If I were, I wouldn’t be writing this. But the great thing is, this instructor wasn’t, either. And he had 2.5 million miles of tractor trailer driving experience and tons of stories, told in his thick “Down Eastah” accent, to show for it. He was an aged warrior of the road with the requisite cauliflower ear.
Here’s some of what I learned.
• Exhausted drivers are actually more dangerous than drunk drivers.
• You never really have the right of way; it has to be given by the other driver.
• You should never, ever text message while driving, but if you absolutely must, hold the phone up instead of down, since your peripheral vision works better with your eyes raised.
• You should hold the steering wheel from the bottom; that way, if you get into a crash and your airbag inflates, and the 200 mph force slams your hands back rapidly, your hands will go to your sides as opposed to in your face (hand jewelry wearers beware).
The other students had interesting stories to tell. Some had to take the course in order to keep their licenses (one had accumulated 14 points). One took the course every year, thinking that the three credits you earn from the class disappear after 12 months. One had taken out a few other vehicles in a parking lot in a recent crash.
What interested me the most was being told that no matter how many points you have on your license, they all disappear after a year. So the three that concerned me would have theoretically vanished next June, regardless of whether I took this course – that is, as long as I kept out of trouble.
We heard some great one-liners from crash reports, a few of which I’ll paraphrase:
“I watched a sad-faced old man as he bounced off my car.”
“A telephone pole suddenly appeared in front of me, and I swerved to avoid it when it struck me.”
“My rear end was in bad shape.”
“I looked at my mother-in-law before I drove us over the ledge.”
When it was all said and done, we were handed our diplomas. One middle-aged student said it was the first diploma he’d ever received. And all we had to do to earn these refrigerator-worthy certificates was stay awake during the class!
I drove home, glad to have that experience behind me but actually feeling enlightened by it at the same time. I was once again point-free. Coasting through a 40 mph business strip, I kept my eye on my speed and noticed one car behind me. I approached a 55 mph hill with a passing lane and began to accelerate.
Just then, you guessed it: the blue lights went on.
Had I started to accelerate too soon? I’d just completed this point-avoiding course – the certificate was on the passenger seat, the ink barely dry, and I thought that maybe I could throw that before the police officer in a lame attempt to show that I was trying to mend my wicked ways.
“I’m sorry,” I said as he approached my window. “I was trying to speed up for that hill –”
“Nah, that’s not why I stopped you,” he responded. “You’ve got a headlight out.”
Once he checked my license to ensure that I wasn’t a fugitive, he let me proceed on my way.
At 7:01 this morning, I was at the service station across the street to have my bulb replaced. And as I drive along now typing out my text messages, you’d better believe that I keep my phone raised high.
After all, I’ve gotta watch out for those helicopters.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can catch his stories about Bath, Topsham and SAD 75 in the News section, and if he isn’t careful you may see him in the Police Beat, too.