I absolutely love getting email from my readers, especially if they stroke my attitude with pleasant words. After one of my recent newspaper columns was published, I received just such an email from a man who said that he was a bad driver’s defensive driving teacher.

I was floored at his comment about bad drivers. I’ve been driving for 53 years, and my experience has been that most drivers I encounter are helpful, reliable, harmless and considerate. But I confess that I have moments of absolute and decided delusion.

When I was younger, other drivers rarely fazed me. But now, many drivers mortify me. I’m in no whopping hurry to join the bazillions of drivers who’ve left this old earth, but when I die, I prefer being in bed, not in a car. A few people drive like they’re competing in the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans or leading the pack at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Sadly, some folks drive like their head is seat belted below their waist. Once in a purple haze, a driver is spotted operating a vehicle like a 99-year-old recluse who dallies in a car only once a year.

On multiple lane highways, I think that drivers who hog lanes might be the same patrons who hog two seats at a theater. In all likelihood, they’re the same folks who dawdle to move their car when their traffic light turns green. That might be because they want to finish typing their cellphone message. Scores of drivers eat, drink or smoke when they drive. It may not be as dangerous as people who drive while reading roadmaps, or using a rearview mirror to apply makeup, but those things can still cause a distraction. Some people don’t comprehend the word distraction when television reporters point out driving activity that might be illegal. Drivers who take their eyes or minds off the road, regardless of their activity, can become distracted and can earn themselves a traffic ticket.

Many police agencies don’t enforce the speed limit until a driver exceeds the speed limit by 10 mph or more. But, in many states, that is likely their agency policy and not their state law. My oldest daughter got a speeding ticket when she was driving to college in Milledgeville. She said to me, “But I thought the cops allowed us to drive 15 mph over the speed limit.” I told her that the speed limit is a limit, not a recommendation. One of my supervisors was traveling to Quantico, Virginia, and got stopped by the state police. He was told that some of the younger troopers would write a traffic citation if they caught a driver traveling 1 mph over the speed limit. Thankfully, the older trooper gave him a warning. So, if most American police officers, using a speed detecting device, catch a driver traveling over the speed limit, that driver is liable for violating the law.

At night, every now and again we see drivers reading maps with their car’s interior light turned on. At night, when I turned on an interior car light at the request of a family member, I always had difficulty seeing the road. Could that have been a driving distraction? If a police officer stops a car because the interior light is on, he might ask the driver to turn it off. He might also charge the driver with distracted driving. An unrecognized ingredient in this scenario is the fact that a car’s interior light could be glaring, glittering or distracting to other drivers.

It’s interesting that the three states with the most annual traffic related deaths are the Southern states of Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina. And, the three states with the least traffic related deaths are the northern states of Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts. Thankfully, one website doesn’t rank Georgia as one of the top 10 states with the worst drivers in the United States. Does that mean that all Georgia drivers are saints? Well, I’m not holding my breath for that verdict.

Vehicles today are safer than they’ve ever been, but the number of deaths on American highways are on the rise. The primary reason is because of bad drivers. There’s a higher number of drivers on the road, there’re more distractions, drivers shop, travel and commute more, speed limits are higher and law enforcement has recruitment issues. Don’t play the odds. A defensive driving course might be the ticket. It might also help prevent one.

Charlie Sewell is a retired Powder Springs police chief. Email him at retiredchiefsewell@gmail.com.

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