Stay Off the Tracks and Other Vital Lessons in Driving Safety


I am in the middle of a six-hour online "defensive driving course" that will allow me to escape the fine and possible car insurance implications of a ticket I got several weeks ago for driving about 45 miles an hour on a Dallas street where the speed limit (I discovered) is 35. But don't worry: I'm being punished for my recklessness. The state-certified course, which is certified by the Texas Education Agency, is godawful dull, replete with instructional videos reminiscent of the shorts they used to mock on Mystery Science Theater. It was also intimidating at first, since some sections present a lot of statistics, leaving you to wonder how much you're supposed to remember. Almost nothing, it turns out. Pages full of information on traffic fatality trends, for instance, were followed by a single question asking what the leading cause of car crashes is.

Although I learned that I should never drink and drive, last night I discovered that I could take the driving course while intoxicated with no apparent impairment of my performance. In fact, a few drinks made fare such as Paths of Thunder—a 15-minute lecture to people who are tempted to drive around the gates at railroad crossings, despite the warning sign, flashing lights, and clanging signal—almost enjoyable. In my relaxed state, I was also less annoyed at the "correct" answers that are not, strictly speaking, correct. E.g., when asked, "In which of the following circumstances is it acceptable to speed?," you are clearly supposed to pick "it is never acceptable to speed," although one can imagine scenarios, such as rushing someone to the hospital, when it maybe might be OK to go 45 mph in a 35-mph zone.

For some reason, the penance for speeding also includes sitting through a 10-minute video on the virtues of donating tissue and organs. (After the video, I was expected to affirm that the system for distributing organs is "fair and impartial.") Not only is this subject unrelated to defensive driving, but the video's message runs counter to the course's safety advice. Why wear a seat belt or motorcycle helmet if it will reduce your chances of supplying desperately needed organs to people who will die without them? What kind of selfish bastard are you? Tellingly, the one example of a donor cited in the video was a teenager who was struck by lightning during football practice, which I'd guess is a somewhat less common scenario than dying in a car crash.

Another inconsistency I noticed last night: You should avoid using your horn except when absolutely necessary, lest you provoke a potentially deadly outrburst of "road rage." At the same time, you should always use your horn when passing another vehicle, presumably so you can deliver the completely unprovocative message, "Screw you, slowpoke!"

Still, I'm happy to pay the company that supplies the course $25 (the minimum charge required by law) rather than pay the city of Dallas a few hundred dollars and risk higher insurance premiums. I'm just skeptical that I will end up a better driver as a result.

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  1. I have to say, I also took one of these online driver safety courses, and I also drank a bottle of wine while doing so. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks like that.

  2. I’ll bet Troy McClure would have been a more entertaining host for your course, Jacob. You may know him from such safety films as Alice’s Adventures Through The Windshield and The Decapitation of Larry Leadfoot.

  3. So you’re out only $25? Just got one exiting I-75 in Richardson (where you are obviously not allowed to coast to the lower speed limit on the access road). Showed him my CHL, as I’m told this will occasionally help you get out of a ticket…he was thrilled to talk guns with me, but wrote me up anyway. I chose deferred disposition, saves time but you still pay the city. Now that I know I can spend 6 hours drinking in front of the computer course for only $25, I won’t make the same mistake next time.

  4. For a minute there I didn’t realize it was online and I said “you went to a state-ordered driving course with a couple in you? Props.” My respect was high, and then I realized that it was online. Disappointing, really.

  5. “In which of the following circumstances is it acceptable to speed?,” you are clearly supposed to pick “it is never acceptable to speed,” although one can imagine scenarios, such as rushing someone to the hospital, when it maybe might be OK to go 45 mph in a 35-mph zone.

    I like when they say you should never, ever, exceed the speed limit, even while passing another car on a two lane road. Fuck that; when I pull out, I’m on it. I reckon a minimum of -plus 30mph over the car I’m passing is a good rule of thumb.

  6. If you took the course on your laptop while driving, I’d be impressed.

  7. You may know him from such safety films as Alice’s Adventures Through The Windshield and The Decapitation of Larry Leadfoot

    Don’t forget the classic thriller “P, as in Psycho”

  8. Jacob, I’ll bet you goof off at diversity training seminars too.

  9. Paths of Thunder–wasn’t that also a soft-core porn film about bbw’s?

  10. At my last diversity seminar I took my Nintendo DS and played Zelda the entire time. It looked like I was taking notes intently.

  11. In a world where trains run on time…

    One man is bent on breaking the rules…

    This summer…

    See what happens when crossing the tracks…

    Means crossing the line between life…

    And death…

    Paths of Thunder…

    This film is not yet rated. See the trailer at

  12. For additional fun, voluntarily sign up for your state’s DUI counseling without having a DUI. The operators won’t know what to do since they can’t lecture YOU on your bad behavior YOU scumbag, and YOU won’t have any initimidation whatsoever when you politely point out all the bullshit “science” rolled out during the courses.

  13. I also took that course, but for making an unlawful u-turn on Lemmon. Unfortunately, the cop was sitting at the cross light and nabbed immediately after.

    However, I haven’t made an unlawful u-turn since, largely because I don’t want to take that course again. I often wonder where the s.o.b. is when I observe others make that same turn, a frequency on Lemmon.

  14. A drivers education “class” I took as teenager to escape a ticket planted the seeds that eventually spouted to shift me from the Left to libertarianism.

    Back then I lived in my rural central Texas hometown. A good old boy Sheriff’s deputy taught the class. The class was largely Q&A. Somebody eventually asked how any motorist could memorize the rather large book of traffics regulations that the deputy kept referring to.

    “You can’t,” he said, “and its impossible for anybody to drive in compliance with all the laws. I could follow anybody driving safely across town (the town wasn’t that big) and find five things to ticket them for. Nobody can follow all the laws. You just have to follow the big ones and hope the Law doesn’t have it out for you.”

    Lesson learned. The more laws, the more criminals. The more detailed and fussy the traffic laws grew, the less able an ordinary citizen could follow them and the more likely that government officials could abuse their power.

  15. The problem with the DUI counseling course, at least the one I attended, is that you’re locked up in a hotel for 3 days with crappy food and no booze. That’s too high a price for me to go just to argue with them about “science.”

  16. I just got done taking Nebraska’s STOP class last night. Eight hours spread over two nights. The first night, when the class was discussing driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, some middle aged woman goes “And heavy machinery means cars, too!” I wanted to turn around and thank her for that gem of information.

    I also bit my tongue when the class was discussing distractions while driving. I wondered why road head wasn’t listed in the book.

  17. Um, you guys know that there is no device in your vehicle to prevent it from starting and moving, no matter how many points are on your license, right?

    You know that your vehicle will run in an identical manner with or without a licensed driver behind the wheel?

    In the right States you don’t need a license to register the vehicle either.

    Now, if you just manage not to be pulled over you have the money saving knowledge of not registering yourself with the State. Can even save on insurance in some States, as long as you don’t cause damage with your vehicle.

    Just a few thoughts.

  18. Guy, that’s very true, but more and more states are now getting very, very tough on driving without a license. Years ago, you could get away with it, but no more in many places.

  19. more and more states are now getting very, very tough rich on driving without a license.


  20. I paid $65 to do an online comedy defensive driving course. I don’t know if the attempts at humor made it more or less lame than a serious driving course. But I used an exercise machine while doing it, so the time wasn’t completely wasted.

    I do know I was out a lot more than just the cost of the course, since there are various court and filing fees I had to pony up for, plus $10 to order a copy of your driving record so the court knows you aren’t trying to get out of your more than one ticket a year. That record thing really irks me since we all know it would take a clerk about ten seconds to look it up online.

  21. once upon a time I was charged with assualt based on an argument I got in in a bar. The prosecutor said they would drop the charges if I took a religious based anger management class. The class was $800 and consisted of filling in blanks from bible quotes (e.g. “Let he who is without _____ cast the first ____”) and then faxing them to the office. The class took about 5 hours to complete. To avoid violating the establishment clause they gave us the option of instead doing 100 hrs. community service on the side of the road in jail style jump suits. Not suprisingly everybody took the religious version. The founder of the “program” was an a partner in a local law firm and (I think) ex-judge and/or prosecutor. (I can’t remember that well because this was years ago in Atlanta). That’s when I decided to go to law school.

    Still not as bad as NC where going 10 over can require a non-waivable court appearance…unless of course you pay a local lawyer just to show up in court for you. Then you can waive your appearance and just take the fine.

  22. In my college town I once had to write an essay about what I had done wrong (speeding 15mph over), explain that I understood it was wrong, and explain that I was sorry for having done it, in order to be granted deferred adjudication that qualified me for defensive driving.

    I think that’s really what all these requirements are about, keeping you in your place.

    I didn’t write the essay.

  23. Guy Montag,

    Of course, without the states assistance you might trouble proving you own the car since we do not have a private title system for cars. Also, you may find it difficult to seek State assistance if the car is stolen or vandalized if you don’t have it properly registered.

    Given the inevitability of being in a wreck if you drive long enough, the odds of getting caught breaking the law approach a near certainty.

  24. Pages full of information on traffic fatality trends, for instance, were followed by a single question asking what the leading cause of car crashes is.

    OH oh, I know, I know. “Stupid People”

    did I win?

  25. What’s even worse about those courses (I’ve had to take them to be allowed to drive on military installations, and as part of an emegency vehicle driver’s course) is that much of the information is FLAT FUCKING WRONG and may get people killed. Off the top of my head, here are some mistakes I’ve seen:

    Drive with your hands at 8 and 4, so the airbag won’t hurt your arms if it goes off. (10 and 2 is also wrong. 9 and 3 is right.)

    Put the car in neutral when you have to brake hard. (This falls in the you are going to get someone killed! category.)

    Don’t ever try to steer out of an accident-just hit the brakes.

    Shuffle steer.

    Put the clutch in during emergency maneuvering.

    There have been plenty of others-those just stuck out.

  26. Brett | November 15, 2007, 1:54pm | #

    So you’re out only $25? Just got one exiting I-75 in Richardson

    You mean US 75, right?

  27. Abdul | November 15, 2007, 2:02pm | #
    Paths of Thunder–wasn’t that also a soft-core porn film about bbw’s?

    No, its a film about a 1947 auto-racing maverick recently returned from a traumatizing tour of duty in the Pacific theatre serving under an asshole commander played by mel gibson

  28. Warren-I think the answer they wanted was “speed.” In fact, speed is always involved, since a vehicle has to be moving to hit something else. If everyone just stopped, there would be no accidents.

  29. I took an online course in California a couple of years ago, and it was indeed a joke. Hint: you don’t actually have to read anything, as the test is “open book.” You scroll to the bottom, click to view the next page without reading, and save a window of each page. When it comes to test time, bring up the relevant page and do a “find” search for keywords, and it will lead you right to the answer. The whole thing was absurd. But I’m glad they offered it, I wouldn’t have had the time (or the patience) to sit through an actual day-long class.

  30. What about the growing menace that light rail poses to automobile traffic? Besides being a collectivist, central-planning nightmare, light rail causes probably thousands of deaths of motorists who unwittingly stray in the paths of these behemoths. Ban light rail and tear up the tracks before another innocent driver is killed.

  31. Ah, yes, Defensive driving online.

    The first few times I had to take it*, the timer functionality didn’t work so well, so you could log in, rip through 90% of the course in 30 minutes, come back at least 6 hours later to finish up, and have met the time requirements.

    Now they’ve “improved” the website so that you have to go through the whole thing more slowly.
    I agree with Jacob – you don’t need to pay very much attention, and booze helps immensely.

    Still, you should be able to negotiate a flat $150 deferred adjudication deal in most parts of TX. That at least doesn’t involve subjecting yourself to that god-awful course material/waste of time.

    * Hey, it’s not my fault the idiots who govern this city teamed up with the idiots at the EPA to somehow decide 60 MPH is an appropriate speed limit for 10-lane freeways that are straight enough to land goddamn jumbo jets on.

  32. Mr. Sullum, you will soon be taken into custody for thumbing your nose at the spirit of our little driving lesson. On the way to your house we will flash our lights and drive much faster than the speed limit, because we can do that.

  33. In Minnesota we have an “Alive at 55” program. Those of us over 55 take a 4 hour course (8 hours the first time) and then get a 10 % insurance discount, state mandated. The course is stupid, full of old people like me but usually the instructor brings cookies. I’m sure the insurance companies have this built in when they send out the bills. We only have to go every 3 years and it costs about $15. I have been to several, have yet to learn anything.

  34. As bad as the online course is, it sure has to be better than actually going to traffic school.

    The only entertaining thing I ever found in traffic school was the question and answer period. It never fails to amaze me at just how stupid people can be.

    At least if you take the online course you can open two browser windows and post stupid shit to reason at the same time.


    Joe Dokes

  35. Captain Chaos

    If everyone just stopped, there would be no accidents.

    I think you mean if everyone remained still there would be no accidents. Stopping causes lots of accidents.

  36. Considering my own very corkscrewed path to getting a driver’s license–well, yeah, it would be nice if we knew that people on the road had at least a minimum of driving skills, given that they’re hurling around 2000+ lbs of iron at (usually) higher than 15 mph.

    I have my own quarrels with speed limits, though. Damn stupid to insist that people go 55 in areas with little traffic, 4-lane highways, and the road is straight enough to land a 747 on. I’m especially irked with “construction areas” where a) no construction workers are around, it being Sunday, b) the obstruction caused by the construction consists of a single row of cones on the shoulder, no machinery, and no holes in the pavement, and c) they’re STILL insisting that you go 45 mph on a multi-lane highway. Gahh…if ever a place is crying out for ITS and variable speed signs that certainly is it.

  37. Also would like to say that although undoubtedly a lot of stuff in these driver safety courses sounds duh, Totally Obvious, we still have a lot of idiots out there driving for whom reality is not that obvious. Am thinking of the number of brain-dead idiots who try to “beat the train” across the tracks and end up getting squished.

    Would probably write down all of those as Darwinism in action, actually. Anyone who thinks that a 50-car fully loaded freight train going 60 mph can stop in the same distance that a car going 60 mph can–well, someone never sat in on any physics classes. E = 1/2 m v^2, guys…

  38. Brett: there is no I-75 in Richardson, or even in Texas. You must mean US-75.

  39. I’d submit that a single playing of Bloodrock’s D.O.A. would do more to scare people into driving straight than all the safety one-reelers even made.

    I mean, anything not to have to hear that shit again (shudder)…

  40. Memo to Self: Never visit the USA…mind you, am in Australia and got nicked on my motorbike doing 114.9 in a 70 zone. The problem being it was also a hairpin bend:-) Aaaah. No auto-disqualification as was not 45 over;-) SIX thursdays in a row, sitting with a bunch of people who, like me, had just finished work, listening to earnest nannys for three hours. Blechct. SIX reports and a summary, submitted to the magistrate. It all sounded lovely after my P.A. tidied it all up! The Magisterial Manifestation of the State liked my letter so much he read it to court and released me; no points, no fine, no loss of license. Then, of course, I went for a ride….

  41. Yes, yes, I obviously meant US-75.

  42. as was not 45 over [45km is about 28mph]

    Over a speed limit or over a suggested speed? Big difference. If the former, sounds like a bad case of selective enforcement.

  43. Are we supposed to think you are cool for being intoxicated at traffic school? What a total fucking tool. It would be poetic justice if you were in a paralyzing accident while driving home. It is this kind of stupidity that makes it so easy to disregard the “intellectual” arguments you TRY to make on this site. Yet another reason 99.9% of the people in this country don’t give a shit about your irrelevant political party.

  44. Online? Thats great! Couldn’t you just get your kid to sit through the thing for you and pay them hourly? And you could have it set up where you can watch a game or movie while doing it too.

    Awesome, just awesome!

    — Leigh

  45. irrelevant political party

    Excuse me, sir, but “libertarian” has a lowercase ‘l’ and not an uppercase one.

  46. rush 2000 that’s a great idea for a jackass type stunt or just some gonzo journalism. I bet every city in this fair land has a traffic “diversion” program where some connected, patronate types run a mandatory traffic ed, anger management, etc. type class in exchange for a probation deal. I’ve always thought the ones in my area smacked of cronyism and stupidity. the kind of utter corruption and idiocy that only local government can bring you.

    it would be great if you could sign up for free and play the jackass role and ruin the class, and film it somehow.

  47. Influence can be defined as the power exerted over the minds and behavior of others. A power that can affect, persuade and cause changes to someone or something. In order to influence people, you first need to discover what is already influencing them. What makes them tick? What do they care about? We need some leverage to work with when we’re trying to change how people think and behave.

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