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Learning to ‘Drive Wright’
April 13, 2009
by Jen Bakken

In my 21 years, or so, of driving, I’ve never been involved in a serious car accident or even had a speeding ticket. Guess I better knock on wood as I type this, before I jinx myself.

I use my cruise control all the time and just don’t like to speed. My children tell me I drive too slow, but I prefer to say I drive safe.

Well, with that said, I must admit I’m far from perfect behind the wheel, and proved this in February.

Of course, I was in a hurry (aren’t we, as parents, always in a hurry?).

After taking my oldest back to college in St. Cloud, I was rushing to take my other children to their Delano play rehearsal on time.

Thinking it may be faster to avoid the Monticello area, I took Wright County Road 8 to Maple Lake on the way home.

I turned onto US Highway 55 traveling east toward Buffalo. As I passed the Maple Lake School, I assumed the speed limit was 55 miles per hour and set my cruise control. The sirens and flashing lights in my rear view mirror told me otherwise.

I pulled over to the side of the road, as my daughter yelled, from the back seat, “Mom! What did you do? Are they gonna take you to jail?”

When the officer walked up to my car, he told me the speed limit was only 45 miles per hour and asked if I knew how fast I was going.

“Yes,” I told him. “I just set my cruise control, but I thought the speed limit was 55 here.”

He took my driver’s license and proof of insurance and walked back to his squad car. When he returned, he said he was going to cut me a break since I had a clean record.

I thought, “sweet – maybe I’ll get out of this with just a warning.”

Instead, he said he was giving me the option of paying for my ticket or attending the Drive Wright program.

While my ticket would have cost around $130, the Drive Wright program would cost $75, and if I attended the class, this speeding ticket wouldn’t go on my record.

Pretty much a no brainer in my book. I paid and signed up for the class. Admittedly, I was not excited to attend and didn’t think I’d learn anything.

The Drive Wright program began in Wright County in 2005. According to Pat Hackman, executive director of Safe Communities of Wright County, the program’s goal is to give people information about driving, the risks and responsibilities that go along with that, so they can make better choices when they are behind the wheel.

There are traffic laws to keep our roadways, drivers, and passengers safe. Some traffic violations are more serious than others and corrective action is needed in the form of a citation.

“The Wright County Sheriff’s Office along with Safe Communities of Wright County believes that in other cases, education can be more effective in changing a driver’s behavior,” Hackman said.

Deputies with the Wright County Sheriff’s Office have the discretion to give someone a Drive Wright ticket.

The program is funded by the fees paid by the program participants and classes are offered a couple times each month.

Similar driver diversion programs are offered in other counties but not all counties offer these classes.

The Drive Wright program is unique because the Wright County Sheriff’s Office partners with Safe Communities to present the courses. This offers participants a mix of Minnesota traffic law, along with research and safety information.

“Traffic safety is not a priority for most people,” said Hackman. “Yet, 99 percent of us will be involved in a crash in our lifetime. Simple changes to our driving can make a huge impact on our safety while we are in a motor vehicle.”

One thing that stuck out in my mind from the class was that when I was driving 55 miles per hour instead of the posted 45, I would have only saved one minute and 13 seconds.

We all know speeding is against the law and we run the risk of getting a ticket – but if it truly isn’t saving us time, why bother? Why risk a ticket, or an accident, to save a minute of time?

While I initially signed up for the Drive Wright program to save money and prevent having a ticket on my clean driving record, I really did learn some things.

I’m not alone. Drive Wright participants complete an evaluation after attending the class, and Hackman said that 90 percent indicate they will change their driving habits as a result of what they learned.

“Buckle your seat belt, obey the speed limit,” said Hackman. “Concentrate on driving, and drive sober.

For more information on Safe Communities of Wright County or the Drive Wright program, visit www.safecomm.org.