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.