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Berger’s Burg: Queens driver’s safety a matter of hit or miss

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Mr. and Mrs. Neighbor had a bad hair week. The husband, while driving down Jamaica Avenue, stuck out his hand to make a left turn and punched a police office in the nose. A few days earlier, he had an accident by following a white line in Alley Pond Park that turned out to be a skunk. That man has been stopped so often by traffic cops in Queens, they finally gave him a season ticket.

Mrs. Neighbor wasn’t that much better. She took the driver’s exam and got two tickets on the written part. She then failed the driving test because of a slight mistake — she ran over the man giving her the test.

Ironically, they hung a sign on their automobile: “Drive carefully: The life you save may be a pedestrian on his way to remove his car from the parking spot you are looking for.”

Aside from those neighbors, people who have driven with me say that I must be the world’s worst driver. I never come to a complete stop at a stop sign. I never look to the right or to the left and I ride the brakes to death. But don’t blame me. These are the techniques I learned from the driving instructor who taught me to drive, Michael Jackson.

Gloria had a bad hair time also. She was pulled over by a cop on Northern Boulevard.

“Do you know you were doing 60 miles an hour?” he scowled.

Smiling innocently, she pleaded, “Officer, that is impossible. I haven’t even been on the road an hour.”

I knew then and there that Gloria and I were in immediate need of taking the driver’s ed course once again. For the uninitiated, completing a driver’s ed course every three years makes one healthy (less traffic accidents), wealthy (less traffic fines) and wise (improving one’s driving skills and techniques).

We have taken these eight-hour classroom refresher courses on driver safety so often (the last few times with Bayside’s own Mike Melkonian) that we can recite, verbatim, the first 50 pages of the driver’s manual. We hoped, as usual, that reliable Mike would be teaching it again at the Whitestone library.

Our wish came true. We noticed Mike hadn’t aged a bit after teaching this course for 15 years, 25 times a year. “God willing,” Mike said, “I will be teaching this course for 15 more.”

So, let me figure — 25 multiplied by 15, carry the two, over the one … umm, let me use my calculator. The total is 375. That is a whole lot of teaching. Mike does a terrific job making Queens streets safer for motorists and pedestrians.

Most of the attendees taking the course were there merely to receive 10 percent off the liability and 10 percent off the collision on their auto insurance rates.

Of course, Gloria and I have no such monetary motives. We took it to brush up on our driving skills and become better and safer drivers. If our insurance company decides to grant us that discount also, who are we to refuse?

Mike went right to his task and immediately passed out copies of the “AARP Driver Safety Program” booklets.

He began by reading some reasons drivers gave the police for their traffic accidents: “The telephone pole was approaching fast. I was attempting to swerve out of its path when it struck my front end; an invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my vehicle and vanished; coming home I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don’t have; my car was legally parked as it backed into the other vehicle; I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way.”

I couldn’t understand why the whole class was laughing. All are very legitimate reasons I would have also given.

“Traffic laws are simply rules intended to keep the roads safe for everyone, but sometimes when a driver is following the letter of the law, it is not enough,” Mike said. “Drivers who have had prior crashes and/or violations are more likely to have crashes in the future and recent insurance company research shows that just being in a crash, regardless of fault, is an indicator of future crash likelihood.”

Mike rattled off a few crash-prevention tips: “Communicate. Show drivers and pedestrians what you intend to do. Check your mirrors frequently. When changing lanes, check traffic by glancing over your shoulder. Always look backwards before you put the car in reverse. Choose routes that are less demanding. And keep your air conditioner or heater on the lowest possible setting to minimize background noise.” Good advice.

“But what about aggressive drivers and road rage?” smarty-pants Gloria asked.

“There is a difference between the two,” Mike said. Aggressive driving is a traffic offense such as following too closely, speeding, unsafe lane changes, failure to signal and other forms of negligent or inconsiderate driving. When driving, always remember the acronym FIDO (forget it, drive on).

Road rage is a criminal offense that occurs when a traffic accident escalates into a far more serious, violent situation. For this, I have my own acronym, RLH (run like hell).

“The demands of safe driving are constantly changing,” Mike concluded. To be a safe driver, we must be aware of everything that is happening around us in order to have as much time as possible to react. So stay alert, aware and wear your seat belts.

Mike, Gloria and I enjoy your class and can’t wait until 2007 to take it again with you.

I can’t end this column without telling my favorite true automobile story. An elderly woman found four men entering her parked vehicle. She drew her handgun and screamed at the top of her voice: “Get out of my car, you dastardly cads.”

The four men got out and ran away.

The woman, somewhat shaken, couldn’t get her key into the ignition. It was the wrong car. She got out and found her own parked car four spaces away and drove to the police station.

The sergeant, laughing uncontrollably, pointed to four pale men who were reporting a car-jacking by a mad elderly woman, less than 5 feet tall, and packing a large handgun. No charges were filed.

Reach Alex Berger at www.timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext.140.

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