Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Ben Gardner says he doesn’t mind giving out a ticket or taking people to jail because it means he’s preventing future accidents caused by motorists who don’t know the rules.
Gardner will teach the AAA Driver Improvement Program, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 16 in the Briner Library building on the campus of Central Christian College of Kansas, 1200 S. Main St. in McPherson.
“When was the last time you’ve had some sort of instruction on driving a vehicle,” Gardner asked. “It probably started when you first started driving a vehicle and you’ve never had any further instruction — you’ve just continued to operate off of the practices that were taught many years ago.”
The course covers the evolution of the elements of driving over recent years.
“Vehicles have changed, roadways have changed, laws have changed,” Gardner said. “There are always new laws on the books each year, starting in July.”
Beyond the basics of driving, Gardner will speak about the more uncommon features of street design including diverging diamond interchanges and roundabouts. The class also teaches attendees how to be a defensive driver, not engage in road rage and dispels driving myths.
“We try to move them toward better practices and give them factual information about how we should drive certain vehicles,” Gardner said.
What was commonly taught years ago about driving has changed, from the length of following distances to the best hand positions on the steering wheel.
“We shouldn’t be putting our hands high up on the wheel because of airbag strikes,” Gardner explained.
Gripping the steering wheel at a lower position allows drivers to “shuffle” the steering wheel and sometimes rest their hands on their thighs, reducing muscle fatigue.
“That’s how we drive our patrol cars,” Gardner noted. “Even in pursuit driving at 150 miles per hour, our trooper’s hands are at the bottom of the steering wheel and they’re shuffling the steering wheel.”
Gardner said he looks forward to teaching the class to drivers from the McPherson area.
“I typically try to speak to things that are relevant in what I have been personally involved in and responding to,” Gardner said. “I try to keep it topical to things that have happened here in this county.”
Participating in the AAA Driver Improvement Program also allows people to talk with a law enforcement officer in a situation without the stress of a crash, ticket or arrest.
“It gives them a chance to ask questions that they never get to ask an officer,” Gardner said. “Sometimes I don’t have all the answers and I ask, ‘What do you guys think,’ and we bounce it off of everybody in the room.”
Each AAA Driver Improvement Program class takes at least six hours.
“It’s a long time for some, but it’s a fun time,” Gardner said. “When they walk away, I frequently hear people say, ‘I can’t believe that went by so fast. I was thoroughly entertained. I didn’t expect this to be such a good day.’”
A minimum of 15 students is required to have a KHP Trooper teach the AAA Driver Improvement Program. Each of the Kansas Highway Patrol’s “Tweeting Troopers” are certified teachers of the course.
The class is often requested by businesses or organizations who have a fleet of vehicles operated by multiple drivers.
There is a $20 fee for the AAA Driver Improvement Program. Upon completion of the course, attendees are given a card that they can present to their auto insurance company in exchange for a discount.
To register for the Aug. 16 class or schedule a class at a later date, call the Kansas Highway Patrol at 785-827-4437 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at email@example.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.