Back in my day, driver’s education was a class offered in high school. It was one of the few classes in my inner city high school where students showed reverential respect for the teachers. It was common knowledge that getting on the wrong side of these tough guys was a bad move, a really bad move. It would just about guarantee failure in the class, and I mean failure with a capital ‘F‘. You would never have the chance to get behind the wheel of the specially designed car with the second brake on the passenger’s side.
During one of the first class room sessions the instructor asked if anyone had driven a car before. The kids in the front of the room knew this was a rhetorical question. The correct answer was a no-brainer: Sir! No Sir! No law-abiding Northwestern High School student would be caught dead behind the wheel of a car without a license, Sir! But alas, there was one poor soul in the back of the room who it seems was not privy to the school grapevine. She made a fatal mistake. Raising her hand she cheerily announced, ‘My cousin lets me drive his car.’
Dead silence. As the teacher fixed her with his steely gaze the rest of the class held a collective breath. Practically quivering with disapproval he did not deign to reply, but if he had, he may as well have said, “Let us have a moment of silence.” We all knew this was the kiss of death for her immediate driving career. She would never even make it out to the driving range, let alone the open road. Driving a car was a serious business and as we had learned in the very first class, driving was a privilege, not a right. There was no place for shenanigans of any kind when operating a car. I still remember the film that every single class was shown. It was old, even at that time. The grainy black and white film told the story of the original distracted driver, a businessman who was so harried he didn’t even know he had hit someone with his car. The instructors hammered home the point that a moving car was a weapon. I took these lessons seriously and endeavored to be a good driver. I tell you this so that you will better appreciate what I am going to tell you.
When I leave work at night, I am often reminded of another class room lesson that has stuck with me all these years: the ‘rolling stop’. This failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign is a violation that can result in a ticket.
I am pleased to say that I have never gotten a ticket for this particular infraction, but that is not to say that I have never been guilty of it. Keep this under your hat, but when I exit the parking lot after a long night of work, and there is not a car headlight in sight, I have definitely been guilty of some rolling stops.
If that doesn’t seem to you to be much of a crime, read on. I am going to make a startling confession: last week I was guilty of an egregious driving offense. Not a mistake, mind you, but a deliberate breaking of the law.
It was 1:30am and I was leaving work after a strenuous 11 hour shift that did not include a lunch break. Exhausted, I committed my usual minor offense of a rolling stop as I exited the parking lot. Turning left onto the road, I saw that the newly installed traffic light, designed to manage the flow of traffic out of the supermarket parking lot across the street, was red. I slowed to a stop and waited. And waited. One minute, two minutes. My eyelids were growing heavier and heavier and I rolled down the window for some fresh air. I began to fume and rather quickly reached the point where I asked myself “Who programs a traffic light to manage the ‘flow of traffic’ for a 100% empty, not a car in sight, parking lot at 1:30 in the morning? And why am I sitting here like a moron?” I took a deep breath, checked my rear-view mirror and did the deed. Yes, I RAN A RED LIGHT! And I have to add, I didn’t feel too bad about it.
A few minutes later I was at the center of town waiting at another red light. From nightly experience I knew this was a long red light that is programmed in a unique way. If I arrive at this light as it is turning red, I can expect to sit for what seems a longer than usual, and certainly longer than necessary, stretch of time. When the light finally turns green I have to floor it because, I kid you not, the light will turn red before I have even passed underneath it. The light turns from red to green to yellow to red in a matter of about 10 seconds. Who programs these things?! Could it be the same person who programmed the light where I had just committed a major driving sin?
On this particular evening the light was red as I came up the hill to the center of town and I dutifully slowed to a stop. All the college students were gone, and owing to the late hour there was no traffic. Not a car in sight in any direction. I promise you, I had no intention of deliberately committing another crime, but sitting there with drooping eyelids and a seriously growling stomach, I decided there was nothing to lose. Yup, you got it. With no cars in sight, I RAN ANOTHER RED LIGHT.
As I drove home I felt a nervous kind of elation at this new-found rebellion, but in the cold-light of morning I asked myself, WHAT IN THE WORLD WERE YOU THINKING?? When my husband pointed out that some intersections have cameras installed, my stomach felt queasy and I waited for the knock on my front door. “Yes, officer? Where was I last night at 1:30am?” Oh, the embarrassment of being arrested for running not one, but two red lights on the same night!
At this time, it seems as though I have evaded the long arm of the law. Although I have vowed to never deliberately run another red light, I still don’t feel too bad about the actual deed. Extreme fatigue and strong hunger pains do strange things to you. But, if by same strange fluke of time I were to be back in my driver’s ed class and that tough teacher (the one who chose me to be the first student in the class to go out on the road, who is also the one who had enough confidence in me to make me take my driving test that included zigzagging backwards through traffic cones while my left arm was in a cast and sling), were to ask, “Has anyone here ever deliberately committed a moving traffic violation?” I know I would have let him down and for this I feel ashamed.
The class was so long ago that I don’t even remember his name, but I remember the lessons I learned. May God bless and grant tenure to those tough teachers who care enough about their students to hold them to a standard.