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‘Overspeeding’ and my first traffic ticket

01:35 AM March 29, 2016

I HAVE been driving since I was 18. Or, rather, I have had a driver’s license since I was 18—a thousand years ago. I got my license without ever taking a written or practical driving test. How did I manage it? I can’t recall. My driving experience then had been on and off, for the simple reason that I dared not be caught practice-driving the family car, despite the presence of my patient teacher—the family driver.

But after I got married and started driving my own car, I can’t recall ever getting a traffic violation ticket. This wasn’t caused by my “expert” driving; it was more because during my younger years, women drivers were a rare sight and I more or less got off with a mild reprimand for any traffic infraction. Nowadays, of course, every other driver is a woman.

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I had my “brush” with the law on my way to Baguio last May. For the past 14 years, I have been driving my car to Baguio, against my children’s vehement protests. To make them feel better, I promised them I would always have a licensed driver with me—whether hired for simply being physically present in the car during the trip since I still do all the driving anyway, or friends who drive. During that May trip, I invited my two male former students (one of them a licensed driver) for the ride.

I used the North Luzon Expressway, then turned into the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway while maintaining a running conversation with my two companions. When I was queuing up at the SCTEx exit, a smiling uniformed man approached my car and waved me to one side. I thought he was guiding me to a less crowded lane. Then he motioned to me to roll down my window, and with a polite smile still pasted on his face, he said, “Good morning, ma’m. May I see your driver’s license, please?” When I asked why, he said I had been caught by their radar gun/camera “overspeeding” on the SCTEx. I told him I didn’t see any speed limit signs, but he insisted there were several.

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“The allowable speed limit is only from 80 to 100 kph, ma’m.” he said. “And what was my speed?” I asked, to which he replied: “127.” I shot back: “Are you sure it’s my car? Are my facial features clear in your camera?” He said: “Yes, ma’m. We can go to the office if you wish.”

It’s easy to argue with a live cop (never tried it with a dead cop), but I can’t argue with a machine. I was sorely tempted to give him my most charming smile and suggest we just forget the incident—and could he take a break from his tedious job with a midafternoon snack? But I was caught up short. What was I thinking! My students were listening intently to our conversation. What kind of values would I instill in them if I were to bargain with the guy? What kind of role-modelling was that?

Thus, with much reluctance and regret, I handed him my driver’s license, and was assured that I could still drive to Baguio and back to Manila using his traffic violation receipt. The moment I maneuvered the car to reenter the toll booth queue, one of my students said, “Ma’m, why didn’t you just apologize and offer him some money for snacks?” So much for values…

License redemption day came. I decided to do it myself, at the main Land Transportation Office on East Avenue in Quezon City. I arrived at what I thought was an early hour—7 a.m. I was pointed to a big tent which was already filled with about 100 male drivers seated, and many more milling around. I felt lost. I was the only woman there.

So I approached a security guard and asked him about the procedure. While we were talking, a few of the other drivers started to listen in. The guard asked what my violation was. I replied: “Overspeeding.” A burst of loud laughter came from him and the hangers-on, one of whom asked where I was caught: “Saan ba kayo nahuli, sa Maynila?” I said I was caught at the SCTEx. Another guy asked what was the speed limit at the SCTEx. I answered: “100 daw.” Yet another asked what my speed was. I replied: “127.” More boisterous laughter.

Finally, someone directed me to the queue for senior citizens. The long line was filled with male seniors, who all gallantly gave way. I found myself standing at the head of the line—the lone senior female. It felt like I was leading a march to the firing squad.

We were ushered into a room where I was told to take a test and “attend a seminar.” Being a retired teacher, I had always been curious about the contents of this drivers’ test. When I opened the test booklet, the first question I read was: “Kung inilabas mo ang kaliwa mong kamay nang paunat, ano ang ibig sabihin nito?” I was in a quandary. “Paunat” can mean vertically or horizontally. So, like a slow-thinking student taking a surprise quiz, I approached the guy in charge and asked him to demonstrate what “paunat” meant. He took one look at the question then asked if I wanted to take the “English test” instead.

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And so I breezed through the questions in English… until I read: “What is the purpose of the passing of the Clean Air Act?” “What is the maximum capacity of a cargo truck before it can be allowed to pass a bridge that had ___ tons capacity limit?” How the heck should I know!

Then I came across this question: “In road signs, color is used to indicate the kind of warning sign. What does blue denote?” I had never seen a blue road sign in my life; I thought all signs were in distinct gold-and-black. I sat back and looked around, and lo and behold, I realized that the “seminar” I was supposed to “attend” was actually a simultaneous muted video showing traffic rules and regulations, to which nobody was paying attention because everyone was busy with the test. At that very moment, the video was showing traffic signs! And a huge blue “H” sign came along (so blue signs DO exist). My guardian angel must have flown over our heads and taken over the projector. Eureka! I hurriedly checked the “Location” answer box.

My test score? Six errors out of 59 questions. Not bad for a senior citizen driver with many senior moments and, sometimes, a senior mentality.

If I had gotten a perfect score in that test, would that have meant I was a good driver?

Lita Caluag-Cruz, 74, was a faculty member at St. Paul College (now University) in Quezon City. She occasionally conducts workshops on written and oral communication and is a volunteer office worker at her parish church.

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