ESCANABA - Did you know that if you are a licensed driver with a minor traffic violation, you can have the ticket eliminated from your record by passing a six-hour defensive driving course?
State law made such a class available to motorists beginning in 2011, explained Escanaba resident Ray Leach, owner of Rural Transit Solutions, which offers the basic driver improvement course to anyone in Michigan.
"To educate drivers and make the road safer - that's the whole purpose of this course," said Leach, who is a defensive driving instructor certified through the National Safety Council.
Ray Leach, an instructor certified through the National Safety Council, schedules a student in a driving course that allows licensed motorists to pass a test to remove minor traffic violations from their record. (Daily Press photo by Jenny Lancour)
Rural Transit Solutions offers the class once a month at locations in both Escanaba and Marquette. The course is also available anytime online, he said. At this time, the course is not mandatory and requires a fee. There is no driving time involved.
Drivers who are ticketed for minor traffic violations are informed by mail of opportunities to take the course after they pay their ticket, explained Leach. Rural Transit Solutions - the only company offering the class in the Upper Peninsula - is among the course providers suggested by the Secretary of State.
Each month, about 100 drivers of all ages take the course through the local company, either by attending a class or going online, said Leach. Classes must be completed within 60 days of the date on the letter received from the Secretary of State.
"If they pass the test, we notify the Secretary of State and report the results. Any (penalty) points for the ticket and the violation itself will be taken off their record," he explained, adding some younger drivers are placed on probation.
"Any licensed driver with a minor traffic violation, by the end of the day, is thanking us," Leach said. "Often, they express their appreciation for the course and leave with a new attitude."
The defensive driving course is well worth it if it keeps one person from making a poor choice that could otherwise cause a crash or an injury, he said. In some instances, completion of the course even lowers insurance rates, he added.
"You can only control what you do, and what you do with your vehicle as a defensive driver," Leach said, adding this means making the right personal choices before getting into a vehicle and while operating a vehicle.
"It's All About Choices" is the first session of the defensive driving course. According to the course book, "Defensive driving is driving to save lives, time and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others. Defensive driving protects us from what is happening around us."
Choices include making safe and legal driving decisions, such as recognizing a hazard, understanding what options there are, and acting correctly and reasonably to avoid a collision or a ticket, explained Leach.
Learning about making choices puts participants in a position of where they think of family and friends and offers examples of life-changing events experienced by others who did not make the right choices behind the wheel, he said.
In addition to the course book work, research-based videos of personal testimony encourage defensive and safe driving choices, he added.
Other topics discussed during the course include an individual's physical conditions which affect driving. This may include age, mobility, hearing, vision, illness, use of medication, fatigue, or drowsiness. Emotional and mental conditions also affect driving often in the form of road rage, said Leach.
The course also offers practical knowledge about maintenance of a vehicle and inspection points to check including oil and other fluid levels. The importance of safety belts and air bags is discussed in the course.
Participants are also made aware of conditions they can't control while driving, such as light, weather, road conditions, and the mix of traffic on the road, Leach noted.
The impact of alcohol, illegal drugs and prescription medications, combined with driving, is an important session in the course because drivers not only put themselves at risk, but also passengers and other people on the road, he said.
"The course really gives a good clear understanding of how alcohol and drugs affect your judgment," commented Leach.
He expects distracted driving, like impaired driving, will be among the top unsafe driving behaviors because of the increased use of cell phones. Distractions also include various car gadgets and pets, he added.
According to the National Safety Council, the six most unsafe driving violations are improper speed, violating the right of way, driving left of center, turning improperly, passing improperly and following too closely. Each of these is addressed in the course, as well as ways to avoid these behaviors.
Leach said speeding is the most common offense for students taking the local driving course. About 80 percent were ticketed for excessive speed or improper speed for conditions. Failing to stop at a stop sign or stop light or failing to yield the right of way are other common violations of those taking the class, he said.
One of the most important lessons students are made aware of in the course is how the chances of dying increases dramatically as a vehicle's speed increases, he added.
The six-hour course continues with recognizing hazards and learning how to prevent and avoid collisions, Leach explained. In the end, defensive driving habits are reviewed.
Students are reminded they choose how they are going to drive when they get behind the wheel, keeping in mind family and friends who care about them and need them, said Leach.
In addition to the defensive driving course, Rural Transit Solutions also offers "Alive at 25" for 15-to 24-year-olds interested in attending a four-hour driving course for their own benefit. Some parents have enrolled their children in this course, said Leach.
The No. 1 cause of death among those less than 25 years is auto accidents, he said, adding more young people are killed because of their own driving mistakes than by drunk drivers.
To contact Rural Transit Solutions, call Leach at (906) 786-6017 or visit rtsolutions.org.