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Legal Blog Watch Undercover: Texas Traffic School, Part 1

Good morning, LBW readers. Hope you all enjoyed your long Memorial Day weekend. While you were having your barbecues and relaxing at the beach, I ventured into the belly of the beast to bring you a report from the legal front lines.

Texas law allows drivers charged with certain moving violations to have their records wiped clean of such charges upon completion of a state-approved six-hour driving safety course. I decided to go deep undercover to investigate just what these courses were all about, what could possibly take place during these six hours that the state believes could justify giving attendees a pass on a violation of the law.

I chose to investigate a class that purported to be funny. I signed up through Austin Comedy Defensive Driving for a Saturday class, scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. That's right: I committed to be somewhere at 9 on a Saturday morning to bring you this exclusive. You're welcome.

In order to effectively report this story, it was crucial that I not blow my cover. Exposing myself as a "journalist" would certainly change the dynamics of the whole experience. I needed everyone in that room, including the instructor, to believe that I was just some poor sucker who had gotten a speeding ticket. Say ... I don't know ... for going 50 in a 35 at midnight when there wasn't a single other car on the road

So I dressed like your typical Saturday morning Austinite: T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. And I made my way to the bar where the class was being held. Yes, the bar. When I arrived, I informed the bartender that I was there for the "ticket class." Several of my classmates had already arrived, and were waiting to be told where in the sprawling bar complex we were going to set up for the day.

Just before 9, we were directed to an outbuilding behind the main bar structure, where we were to meet our instructor. This "annex," normally used for concerts, still reeked of stale beer and sweat. Lovely. Our instructor was a stereotypical Austin guy, with glasses and a long ponytail. He told the class that, though the class was styled "Comedy Defensive Driving," we were all to be on notice that "laughing is secondary to teaching." Indeed.

The 10 students in the class made for an interesting mix of personalities. Aside from myself, we had a third grade teacher who had been ticketed for exceeding the speed limit in a school zone; an attorney who worked for the state drafting traffic laws; a couple who had not gotten tickets, but thought it would be a cute idea for a date (and would come out of it with certificates to hopefully get their insurance rates reduced); and the undisputed star of the show, a clearly emotionally disturbed 20-year-old pathological liar, whose initial claim to have gotten a ticket because his brand new Volvo was totaled when he was hit at 85 miles per hour by a woman in a Mercedes who had "OD'd on marijuana and mushrooms" would prove to be his most credible statement of the day.

Like all good undercover investigative pieces, this one will be published in multiple installments. So, hang out right there at the edge of your seats. And, until next time, remember, out there on the road, every one of you is a menace:

Posted by Eric Lipman on June 1, 2010 at 11:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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