If there's one thing Eric Parnes has learned from his 25 years as a defensive driving instructor, it's that everyone—city councilors, SFR writers and, yes, defensive driving instructors—eventually gets caught breaking a traffic law. A second lesson is that injecting comedy into court-ordered courses is like adding nitrous to a six-cylinder engine. OK, so it doesn't actually make the classes go faster, but it sure makes it easier for offenders to stay in gear.
SFR: On the record, in case [Municipal] Judge Ann Yalman is reading, can you vouch that I attended your defensive driving course?
EP: And completed with flying colors.
Fantastic. What is the strangest story you've heard in your class?
Oh my God, there’s many of them. We had a young man who told me during the class that he had a surefire way to run any red light at night without getting hurt. His way was to turn off his lights as he approached the intersection. If the other car was coming he’d see its lights and he’d know somebody was coming and so then he’d have to stop. Otherwise, he could just blow through. The obvious problem is if there’s two of ’em with their lights out…well, it’d be kind of a problem.
During the class you talked about red light cameras and how you'd like to see those in Santa Fe. What effect do you think they'd have?
I’d love to see them in Santa Fe. People are not understanding how many people actually get hurt at intersections. We talk about that in the class and why we should not be running red lights. You’d think with education we could take that down, but we’re looking at probably one of the largest death rates from intersection crashes and that’s not stressed very much other than with these cameras. The cameras in Albuquerque really cut down on the death rate.
What is the most common thing people are coming to the class for?
Most of them are speeding. We get a lot of people who follow too close and run into the back of somebody. But mostly speeding and prohibited acts and things like that.
So, I went online and I looked at your traffic tickets. You had a prohibited acts charge. Can you tell me what that means?
Well, I wasn’t quite sure. It’s all mostly concerning my little dog. The little dog was riding on my lap and I held her by her harness so she wouldn’t fall out the window just in case and an officer saw that and gave me a ticket for ‘prohibited acts while driving.’ The judge essentially said that I didn’t have my hand on the wheel and that was good enough. I’m assuming that’s probably the same thing that would happen if you were talking on a cell phone.
Should we pay tickets or take them to court?
I tell my people that I wouldn’t pay a ticket because, to my knowledge, the only thing that’s not going to get you points on your license (get enough and they take your license away for a year) is parking tickets. Everything else will give you points if that ticket gets to the Motor Vehicle Department. The only way to keep the ticket from the MVD is to go to court and talk with the judge and try to come up with a situation where you can work it out where it doesn’t get reported to the state by taking classes or whatever the court determines.
What do you think is the most dangerous intersection in Santa Fe?
Jeez...I think probably Cerrillos and Airport Road because it’s our biggest. Another real serious one would be Cerrillos and St. Francis and the reason being is that we’ve got a train crossing up there and people normally go past the stop lines and park on the tracks. We’ve still got trains that drive through there on a daily basis!
You ever have someone come in who got a ticket for parking on train tracks?
Would you make fun of them if they did?
Well…Yeah. I’d probably question why they did that, because even these big SUVs are probably no match for a train.
What's the fastest you've heard of somebody going over the speed limit?
In one of my classes? We had someone who was going 169 in a 35-mph zone, on a motorcycle.
Were they wearing a helmet?
I was too scared to ask them.
It's kind of amazing that human beings are allowed to drive in the first place.
I thought when I was a kid that I’d like to invent a helmet that would have electrodes that checked your brain out. You’d put this hat on and it would see if your mind was in the proper shape to be driving. I thought that would be a good invention, but then I figured it out: We wouldn’t have anybody driving, because everybody’s mind would be off somewhere else.