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Columnist avoids ticket and clears his record by taking an online driving class.

I have always maintained that, just like Dustin Hoffman's character Raymond in "Rain Man," I am a very good driver.

I now have proof of that because, on Oct. 11, I took a driver training class and, upon completion of it, I received a certificate suitable for framing. I plan to add it to my extensive collection of other honors, including my high school diploma (from Waldport High), my honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, my bachelor's degree from the University of Oregon and the certificate of ministry I obtained on the Internet so I could preside over the marriage of my good friend Tegan Steinberg.Kelly

For those who are wondering why I even bothered to take a traffic safety class, I must confess it was because I received a $170 speeding citation from the city of Portland -- meaning, of course, that I was caught breaking the law. This is not easy for me to admit, considering that, as I have said many times, I am a very good driver.

But it is true, I was caught going too fast by one of those photo radar gizmos -- this particular one on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, not far from the turn-off to Bertha Boulevard, not a familiar one to me. The car in front of me was crawling up the hill at 25 mph and, after following it for quite a way, I decided to zoom around it, and that's when the flash went off.

A few days later my citation arrived in the mail, with a full-color photo of me at the wheel, staring straight ahead like a 75-year-old slack-jawed zombie.

I was mentally prepared to just send in a check for the $170 and put the whole embarrassing incident behind me. I even considered trying to make the case that my car had been stolen by a guy who looks exactly like me, but up until that moment, I had not reported a stolen vehicle, so I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the city of Portland traffic tribunal or whomever was going to pass judgment on me.

But, after reading all the paperwork that came with the citation, it was obvious that they (meaning the Portland traffic "machine") had another idea for me to consider. I was invited to take part in something called a "Vision Zero Traffic Safety Class" and was provided a website, a phone number and an email address to give me numerous options for getting into the class. But it was also made clear that not just anybody qualified for the class. It was kind of an elite gathering of other lawbreaking motorists -- perhaps others who also consider themselves excellent drivers.

The message from the city of Portland kind of pumped me up.

"To qualify for the class, you must not have received a speed limit violation or failure to obey a traffic control device citation within the last three years, and you must not have previously attended the photo enforcement class. If your citation is for 30-plus mph over the speed limit," it continued, "you do not qualify for this class."

Because none of those restrictions applied to me, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

By completing the class, it was explained, "the citation will be waived and will not appear on your driving record. You will pay for the cost of the class instead of the citation. Do not pay for both."

Well, it turned out the cost of the class was $125 -- still a good bit less than the ticket itself, so OK, not so bad.

The other bad part, in my opinion, was that the class was held online, via Zoom. I may have mentioned this a time or two in the past, but I hate Zoom and everything remotely like it. If I do succeed in getting connected to one of those gatherings, I usually just sit and watch while other people jabber on about things -- and, knowing my computer's camera is on me, I have to pretend to stay alert and interested.

But, in order to cleanse my driving record and keep the cops off my tail, I went through the hoops to get signed up for the class, which I was horrified to learn, would last about an hour and a half. So be it, I thought. Bring it on.

The man who conducted the class kicked things off by congratulating all of us (two or three dozen people, as I recall) for qualifying. You have to be pretty good drivers to get this far, he explained, recapping the fact that we haven't had any tickets for at least three years, we had not taken the class before and our citations were not for going over 30 mph over the speed limit. I think we all secretly patted ourselves on the back.

We are all excellent drivers, I thought to myself.

The rest of the class consisted of a lot of reminding us of traffic laws, stopping distances, defensive driving tips and just reviewing the many, many rules of the road. The moderator tag-teamed with a police officer, just to keep things interesting. I did not resent any of it. I love rules, after all, especially traffic rules. When a person of authority reminds us that, in Oregon, it's permissible to turn right on a red light -- but only after coming to a full stop, and not in the crosswalk -- I get goose bumps.

I love it when somebody important points out that that turn signals were put in our cars to be used! Sorry, that's a sensitive one for me, because it often appears that at least 50% to 75% of the motorists out there never actually considered signaling their next turn.

The reason for my passion on this subject, I should say, is because I am an excellent driver -- and now I'm an even better one.

Mikel Kelly is a retired newspaper editor and reporter who writes columns for the Pamplin Media Group on occasion.

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