By Tim Mollen
Journal entry: March 24, 2007 (age 37)
I have never been a particularly good driver. When I first started driving, over 20 years ago, my brother, Dan, said that I “aimed” the car, making lane changes and turns with a little too much gusto. In addition, my eyesight has always been just barely good enough to qualify for a nighttime driver’s license. Worst of all, my temper can make me react poorly to the endless supply of inconsiderate drivers on the road – or as I call them, “SACKINFRASSINGOBBERDOOPS!!”
On the other hand, I have never been in a real accident during those 20 years. A lot of the credit for that goes to my wife, Amanda, who does a disproportionate share of the driving. I also credit St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, whose medal adorns our windshield visor. But I can’t be that bad a driver, I’ve always figured, if I’ve never had an accident.
But today, at a defensive driving course, I was humbled. I was there purely to get a reduction of the points on my license, and a 10 percent discount on part of my auto insurance. Actually learning something was not on my agenda. “Oh, the red octagon that says ‘STOP’ means I should stop?” I entered the conference room at the Johnson City Best Western anticipating that this was going to be a total snooze, as I scanned the room for a vending machine offering Mountain Dew.
The first time the instructor said something I didn’t know, I was mildly surprised. By the time I had filled a page with handwritten notes, I was flabbergasted. He said that the visor with St. Christopher on it should always be pointed toward the windshield, to prevent head injuries in a crash. How did I not know this stuff? I could explain some of my ignorance. For instance, it’s a relatively recent New York state law that says you have to come to a complete stop when you encounter a stopped school bus with its lights flashing – and here’s the surprising part – even if it is on the opposite side of a divided highway.
But I am ashamed to admit to the biggest lesson I learned in the class. I have to say that I had no idea that it’s illegal to drive in the left lane of a highway unless you are passing another car. I had always been in the habit of staying in the left lane unless there was someone coming up behind me who was driving faster. Beyond my impatience, my rationale had been that the right lane has more potholes and is more crowded. If I had ever really thought about it, it might have occurred to me that all those people were in the right lane because that’s where we’re all supposed to be most of the time.
So the next time I find myself cursing out a driver talking on a cell phone, I’ll try to remember that I’m not perfect, either. Besides, maybe they’re calling a driving school to take a class.