Aggressive Driving Class: A Personal Experience

September 15, 2010

Sometime ago I screwed up while driving to a friend’s home in a neighboring state. After arriving late to the party I was informed that it was a well known speed trap and not to feel bad about the ticket. It happens.

Wanting the whole experience to go away I marked guilty on the ticket and sent the $160 check out in the next day’s mail. I made peace with going 50 mph in a 25 mph zone by focusing on the lack of transition from a 55 mph highway speed to the town’s slower limit. That was sufficient to convince myself that I was not a bad person and that this was behind me and that I could move on albeit with $160 less cash in my pocket.  

Things were fine for about two months until I received a letter from the DMV of my home state saying that I had 90 days to complete an aggressive driver’s behavior modification course. Failure to complete the course would result in the suspension of my license for 30 days. This had to be a mistake. I was a stupid driver not an aggressive driver. Surely the motor vehicle department would understand and I would be excused from the 8 hour program.

This was not to be the case as a call to DMV would demonstrate. The agent that I spoke to was very nice and seemed to listen intently as I described the perfect storm of vehicular happenstance that landed me in such a pickle. She even looked up my record, which was clean since the beginning of the millennium. But no, I had pleaded guilty and any speeding infraction that is over the limit by 20 mph merits the designation of aggressive driving. I needed to pay the $100 and take the course.

The eight hours were spread over a Monday and Wednesday evening. The class consisted of viewing tapes, class discussion and answering questions in a workbook. We learned that everyone drives aggressively at times which is behavior that does not mesh well with thinking of the road as a community of drivers. The course was based on William Glasser’s book Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom.

The instructor had everyone describe what behavior had landed them in the class, why they had chosen to act that way and what the actual outcome was. I was impressed by how open everyone was to telling their stories, which ranged from high speed chases to habitual speeding. The chart that he drew on the whiteboard told a very sad tale as I and my classmates pointed out that our choices had resulted in thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees, numerous driving suspensions and for some--prison time.

The instructor kept emphasizing that we would take from the class what we wanted and if we were open to change it could make a difference in our choices. He told of drivers whom he had met during his 23 years of teaching this and similar courses who had caused fatal accidents, “It changes your life,” he said. He warned us that there is a tendency not to accept blame. My “lack of transition” explanation came to mind. Some in the class seemed to be helpless to change their behavior which made the moderator remark. “This class scares me.”

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