Monday, August 14, 2006

MADD at Traffic School

I attended traffic school today -- to the extent that sitting in an internet cafe for several hours in Northern Thailand and answering online questions while drinking Chang Beer and eating squid crackers can be described as attending to anything.

I received a traffic citation in May for allegedly rolling through a stop sign in Beverly Hills and, due to the inability of an Officer Givens to fill out the one-page form correctly, I could not resolve the matter before I left the country. In order to prevent a trip-delaying court appearance, I had to repeatedly remind the Traffic Supervisor to put the damn thing in the system, ably coordinating my own prosecution.

California has a simple procedure for resolving minor traffic infractions. You pay the fine (in this case, $126) and in theory you have one point assessed on your driver license. However, you can pay the court about $40 extra to attend a "traffic school," in which case the point is wiped off your record so your insurance premiums don't go up. The catch is that you can only attend traffic school once every 18 months.

Traffic schools used to be in-person, all-day seminars held in flourescent-bathed storefronts on the second floors of god-awful minimalls. In order to attract students, the traffic schools, which are private companies operating under concessions, would one-up each other with eye-catching curricula and names like "Free Pizza Traffic School" and "Comedy Traffic School (Laugh and Learn!)." These non-traffic-themed traffic schools quickly became a staple of "wacky California" newspaper and magazine feature writing.

Then it all moved online. In-person traffic schools probably still exist, but it's been ten years since anyone I know actually attended one. Instead, you log on to one of the accredited online schools, pay the fee (about $20), read the text, complete the quizzes and, upon passing an always-capitalized Final Exam (hey, this is serious stuff) get an also-capitalized Certificate of Completion for forwarding to the court.

The traffic school I chose turned out to be dreadful. The site contained jumbled lessons in no logical order, mangled text, and poorly written, obtuse test questions such as "What is the picture appears above the 'Driving in Fog' section? A. Lake. B. Bridge. C. Forest. D. Downtown." Someone at the Superior Court may wish to adjust the quality control.

That was merely irritating. What infuriated me was the following sentence from the drunk driving section, printed in red letters so you couldn't miss it: "MADD and SADD are excellent resources."

No, they're not. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and its cohort organizations are examples of the most pernicious force in American politics: prohibitionist groups that masquarade as regulatory groups.

MADD is not against drunk driving. MADD is against the legal sale or consumption of alcohol by anyone, adult or minor, even though it will never admit that's its true goal. In a similar vein, Handgun Control Inc. was never in favor of handgun control, it was in favor of prohibiting the ownership of any firearm by any private person. And don't get me started on the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which won't be happy until all our meals are reduced to handfuls of macrobiotic gerbil pellets.

If you want to learn how little MADD cares about preventing drunk driving, ask Bill Anderson. In 2004, the West Warwick, Rhode Island, dad allowed his 18-year-old son and friends to drink at the family house after the senior prom -- with the conditions that everyone stay until morning and Dad kept all the car keys.

"I took a recliner, put it down at the front door, grabbed a good novel," Anderson told CBS News. "I let them know as soon as they came in the door, the keys came over. So, if you needed to get anything out of your car, get it done before you came into the house -- because once you come in the door, you don't leave." For his trouble, Anderson was arrested but had to be released because, under state law, he had not committed a crime.

Did MADD come to the defense of the dad who made sure that none of the 34 teens in attendance got behind a wheel? Of course not. MADD denounced Anderson and repeated its zero tolerance bleating.

"We want parents to understand that underage drinking is not just kids being kids, or a rite of passage. It is a serious -- even deadly -- problem," said MADD president Wendy Hamilton.

But it wasn't deadly in this case, precisely because of the actions taken by Bill Anderson. And, judging from news reports, the results of the teenage partying weren't anything more serious than a couple of senior-class hangovers.

Still think the people running MADD have some grasp of proportion? A Virginia couple were found guilty of throwing a booze party for their 16-year-old son, and a yahoo state judge imposed an eight-year sentence. The local MADD president stated she was "pleasantly surprised" by the sentence and "applauded" the effort, according to the Washington Post. (The sentence was later reduced to 27 months, which still seems oppressive.)

MADD is nothing more than the grand-daughter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. It says one thing, even down to the wording of its name, while advocating a far more reactionary agenda. But it's an "excellent resource," I'm told.


Anonymous Random Woman in Jeep said...

Good post. I also have an amusing story about driving school, where I was sent in May. I was sent there for parking my Jeep in an active driveway. The instructor explained that when you do that, “You are blocking everyone in the parking lot, you inconsiderate, thoughtless moron!” In this vein he continued: “Move your Jeep, you rude, selfish idiot! Look at all the people you are blocking!”

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Tom said...

I see a young Louis Gossett Jr. handling this role...

4:35 AM  

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