Friday, November 28, 2008

Safe Driving, and Inane Questions

I finished my defensive driving course, yay!

(I got an A.)

The course was pretty evenly divided between text (read aloud by a narrator) and video. Since it was an online course, occasionally there was a list of questions pertaining to a video just viewed. This is to insure that the student is actually watching the video rather than surfing the 'net or getting a sandwich and just allowing the time to tick away. (By Texas law, a person is required to complete six hours of defensive driving education in order to have a ticket dismissed.)

I tried to be very attentive in each of the videos, as well as the text sections, wanting to refresh my memory of the traffic laws and even learn something new, since I had to sit 'in class' a total of six hours anyway.

Some new things I learned (these all pertain to Texas, check your local laws):

1. It is illegal to walk on railroad tracks.

2. Trains take around a mile to stop once the engineer realizes someone is on the tracks. This is about the length of eighteen football fields. Needless to say, in any train/car intersection, trains have the right of way by law.

3. Many people are killed on train tracks every year mistakenly thinking the train is going slower or is further away than it actually is. Like I said previously, the person in the car or truck is at fault in a train/car accident, because trains have the right of way. (Where is a train supposed to go if a car is on the tracks?) It was heartbreaking to hear the interviews of train engineers who had plowed into vehicles. Through no fault of their own, these men have to live with the knowledge that they have taken lives.

4. It is illegal to drive onto the shoulder of the road if the line is solid white (unless it is an emergency). Even if you are turning right. We have an intersection on the highway near us which does *not* have a broken line on the shoulder near the light. The right turn leads to the nearest shopping area to our neighborhood, and people are constantly going onto the shoulder to turn right. When I learned about that law, I started turning right without going onto the shoulder, but I found that I took my life into my own hands doing it that way. The speed limit on that highway is 70 mph, and if you slow down to turn right without going onto the shoulder, you are liable to be run over. I need to contact the county about changing it to a broken line.

5. It takes a commercial truck going 55 mph the length of one football field to stop. Kinda makes you want to give trucks plenty of room behind you when you pass, doesn't it?

6. Trucks have very large blind spots. It's best to stay where you can see the face of the truck driver, either through the window or through his rearview mirrors. I prefer to get around slow trucks as soon as I can, and stay away from them. I let the fast ones pass me.

7. Anti-lock brake systems (ABS) work differently than regular break systems. That jarring feeling is the brakes being pumped for you by the ABS, and is exactly what is supposed to happen in a braking emergency. The brake-pumping action allows the tires to maintain traction with the road so you can steer the vehicle. If your car does not have ABS, you can manually pump the brakes so that you don't lose control of the vehicle's direction. (The ABS on my vehicle has given me anxiety ever since we bought the van four years ago. It doesn't kick in very often, but when it does, it really feels like the vehicle is broken or something.)

8. In a car crash, there are actually three collisions: the collison of the vehicle with whatever it hits outside of the vehicle, the collision of the driver and passengers with the interior of the vehicle, and the collision of the internal organs and nerves of each person with the skeletal and muscular structure of his/her body. That is why a person may sustain internal damage in car crashes, even without any outward evidence of harm done.

9. Riding in a vehicle gives a person the illusion of sitting still, but actually, if the vehicle is going 55 mph, everyone in the car is going through space at that speed as well. (This is one of those things I never thought about, but now that I think about it, it is obvious.)

10. Vehicles today are engineered with "crush zones" in the front and rear to reduce the impact of the crash on the interior of the vehicle. These areas absorb more of the energy of impact, and lower the likelihood that the passenger area itself will be crushed. (I came away from this course with a tremendous amount of respect for the ingenuity of auto engineers. When you think about it, we are all great fools to want to go hurtling through space at such high speeds, and at such close proximity to other great fools doing the same thing. These engineers basically save us from ourselves with their safety ideas.)

11. In the commercial he did for the "Don't Mess With Texas" campaign, Willie Nelson wore a red bandanna.

Now, this last item was not something I felt enhanced the course. And the class was littered with these kinds of quiz questions. Very irritating. And because I was forced to go back and re-view the videos if I missed any quiz questions, I got to where I found my mind more concerned with the color of the car than with the information being presented. As an educator, I felt these questions missed the mark, and in fact were detrimental to the absorption of the material.

So when I got finished with the course and had an opportunity to leave feedback, I wrote this:

I thought the information presented was pertinent, and I learned several things I didn't know before. However, I became distracted when I realized I was going to be asked questions concerning the color of the narrator's shirt, the make of the car in the video, the type of geography in the background, etc. I realize these questions were included to ensure that the videos were watched, but there were more of them than necessary, I felt. After I missed a couple of these impertinent questions, I found myself nervously thinking about the color of the man's blazer *instead of* the traffic safety information he was presenting. This rather defeats the purpose of the course, doesn't it?

This morning, I received a very nice response:

We completely agree but unfortunately, both the numbers of questions as well as the type of questions are required by TEA guidelines for all State of Texas approved defensive driving courses taught online. You are also correct as to the reason why those questions are asked.

The good old Texas Education Agency. Surely we can do better than this. Insulting it was, to have to answer those questions, scanning the video for any minute little detail that had nothing to do with driver safety. Do you know how many little, irrelevant details there are in a video? No one can absorb them all.

1 comment:

G.L.H. said...

"Do you know how many little, irrelevant details there are in a video? No one can absorb them all."

Your comment about the videos reminds me of something I heard once:

Each second you are behind the wheel, there are 100 things that you should be paying attention to.

For awhile after hearing that, I was so distracted trying to find things to pay attention to, I wasn't driving very well!

Glad your driving course is over!