Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: Driver improvement course an important refresher tool

Three years just passed and AAA notified me it was time to take its driver improvement course. The incentive is that I get a discount on my auto insurance. The problem is the course is seven hours with rest breaks and a lunch break, but instructors usually cut down the break times so we get out a little earlier than usual.

Alternating between speaking, following the course in a book and seeing a video made the time pass rapidly. The first thing the book emphasized was that risk is always present but can be altered by managing visibility, time and space.

One fact I learned was that about one in four trucks have faulty tires, and since some of them are really big, it made me think about keeping my distance from trucks. The space trucks leave in front of them is important.

It was emphasized that one has to be alert because other drivers may run stop signs or run a red light. You have to be alert to happenings on all sides. You can adjust your side view mirrors so you can see more of the area around your car.

We were told that one should always signal so it becomes a habit. One must stop if a school bus’ red hazard lights are flashing even if you are on the other side of a divided road. Hopefully, bus drivers do not stop on a divided road because when you stop it can be a problem for drivers behind you.

A new law in most states requires that if a police car has stopped on the side of the road you have to move over one lane when you pass it. Another fact mentioned is that a work zone is a work zone all the time. Another new law is that everyone through age 17 must have a seat belt. One should put a child behind the driver because it is safer.

There was a discussion of what to do if your car goes into water. You can use a special hammer to break the glass or a metal-tipped ball point pen so water can come in to equalize the pressure and allow you to escape. One should practice finding the door handle by closing one’s eyes and reaching for the door handle so one can know where it is in the dark.

Anger is dangerous, so if another driver does a stupid or dangerous thing, think, control your temper and do not get angry. The course was useful because it refreshed my memory and gave me new information about new laws.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: It seems the city Department of Buildings is finally enforcing the code that prohibits apartment conversions without approval by the DOB. Too many tenants or landlords divide up rooms by building illegal room dividers. For years, Queens civic associations have requested this enforcement, but it took the death of two firemen and the serious injury of two more to finally make the city care enough to enforce the building codes.

In 2005, a fire in a Bronx apartment house seems to have awakened city leaders that partitioning apartments is dangerous and must be stopped. The firemen became trapped due to the smoke and had to jump onto the concrete courtyard to escape the fire. Two died, one was slightly injured and one was severely injured.

There were two jury trials. The Bronx jury found the tenants not guilty. The owners were found guilty, but the state Supreme Court found the owners not guilty because the prosecution had not proved the defendants had known about the partitions which the tenants had built.

Well, the DOB is now entering apartments to make sure divided rooms are up to code and that the electrical work meets the code. The biggest obstacle is for the DOB to enter private property to examine for dangerous conditions.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The state builds prisons and youth detention facilities all over the state as a way of housing people and providing employment for people in small towns. People from the city are sent hours away, making it hard for family members to visit. These family members board buses for the overnight ride to prisons and other institutions upstate.

Local state legislators also lobby to keep these facilities open, although they are terribly underused and almost empty in some cases. There must be a better way to provide work in these small communities. There is a clause in union contracts which says a year’s notice has to be given prior to closing such facilities. Surely there could be other uses for these buildings and the people who work there and get paid for doing nothing. We have to conserve our state revenue because the economy is not producing enough for everyone’s needs all over the state.

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