® California Traffic School Oddities

Recently I had the distinct displeasure of getting a speeding ticket. It was in California and I attended traffic school like so many do. The twist is traffic school is now online, and one, it was quite a lot if work (some seven chapters of 10-20 pages each, a quiz after each chapter and a final test), and two, it was at times perplexing and hilarious!

For example, the references to motorcycles usually included warnings to car drivers to steer clear of motorcycles because they tend to lose control and crash. I'm not making this up! Here's the quote. Not once but several times a statement such as this appeared in the online training. Incredible.

When following bicycles or motorcycles, you need extra room in case the rider loses control of the bicycle or motorcycle.

Wow. There were many other interesting, sometimes funny, items in the course. Here is a sampling. Remember, these are quotes...

  • Yellow light--85% of drivers on American roads do not know the proper course of action to take when faced with a steady yellow traffic light. Really?
  • Smoking in a vehicle--As of 2008, Health and Safety Code 118947 makes it an infraction for any person to smoke a cigarette, pipe, or cigar in a motor vehicle when a minor is present in the vehicle. The law applies whether the vehicle is at rest or in motion and is punishable by a fine not exceeding $100. Did you know this?
  • Car insurance--[In California] A deposit may be posted in lieu of obtaining liability insurance. All that's needed is a surety bond for $35,000 obtained from a company licensed to do business in California. Interesting.
  • Cell phone use while driving (which by the way is illegal in California)--A University of Utah report shows that talking or texting while behind the wheel alters a driver's reaction time in the same way as a DUI-worthy blood alcohol level of 0.08%. Hands-free (bluetooth) devices have been shown to have the same effect on the brain as talking, texting, or drinking. It's not the act of dialing a number or holding a phone to your ear that causes the distraction in the first place. It's the fact that your mind's attention is diverted from watching the road. Any kind of cell phone use while driving, whether hands-free or hand-held, reduces the brain activity used for driving by 37%. I am not at all surprised by this. Arizona is currently attempting to establish the same prohibition California has. Distracted driving needs to stop.
  • Bicycles--Bicycles play an increasingly important role in our nation's overall transportation system. Many people think bicycles do not belong on the streets. However, they have as much right to be on the road or highway as do motor vehicles. The law requires that a person under the age of 18 shall not operate or be a passenger on a bicycle without wearing a properly fitting and fastened helmet. Those of us over 50 remember when it was illegal to ride a bicycle on the street. We had to get off and walk the bicycle across a crosswalk.
  • Emergency (hazard) flashers--If you have an emergency and must leave your vehicle unattended on a freeway, turn off the engine, lock the ignition, remove the key, firmly set the brakes, and turn on your emergency flashers. Good advice. Problem is, few motorcycles are equipped with hazard flashers and even those that are perversely can't operate them without the keyswitch on.
  • The traditional steering hold no longer recommended--There are two methods for holding a steering wheel that are generally accepted as the safest ways, as we stated at the beginning of this course. The first is to hold the wheel with your hands in the positions of 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock. [really?] Holding your steering wheel in this manner is widely regarded as the most useful method for maintaing control of your vehicle in the event of an emergency situation on the road. The second method is to hold your hands at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock on the wheel. This method is steadily gaining popularity and support as a more comfortable way of holding your steering wheel, while still affording the same control that the first technique offers. I was surprised at this. High school Driver's Ed did a good job pounding into our heads that the 10 and 2 positions were the only correct hold.
Of course there are many other surprising things in the California DMV handbook, things that as a lifelong rider and a 45 year veteran of the powersports industry I found startling. For example the repeated reminders for motorcyclists to ride in the center of the lane. This is suggested from the standpoint of securing your right to the lane and actively discouraging car drivers from attempting to push you out if it. However, as good as that sounds, it may not be very practical. Historically, motorcyclists have preferred to ride to one side of the lane's center to avoid the grease and debris that accumulates there. This is just one example, but taken with the absudity about motorcycles always crashing and other nonsensical statements, I find it odd that the state of California, with more motorcycles than anywhere else in the nation, has communicated so much that is unfriendly toward motorcyclists and demonstrably clueless about the biking community.

Update 2017: It seems nonsense is not limited to California. My wife recently did her online traffic school here in AZ and after wading through hours of mindless instruction, the final test was found to be on the thoughts and actions of a pretend ADOT mascot! None if it was in the material! Incredible!


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