Recently, while stopped at a busy intersection, I was surprised when two other cars had a sudden head-on encounter. It reminded me of automobile crash tests I've watched on TV. However, since this was the real thing, I drove to a nearby pay phone and called 911.
Being alert to danger on the road is one of my personal priorities. It's been that way since the fifth grade. when I was inducted in the elite brigade of traffic monitors known as the School Safety Patrol.
Nobody took their responsibilities more seriously than I did while wearing that bright red sweater and yellow cap, and I can truthfully say that not one pedestrian ever came to grief when I was on guard duty. The crosswalk at Addison Street and Middlefield Road may have seemed like a peaceful, non-threatening environment to casual observers. I knew better.
Drivers usually obeyed the signals very carefully when kids were waiting to cross. But after the crowds were gone, I often witnessed rogue motorists racing through at high speed, trying to save a few seconds before the light turned red.
I noted the license plates of these reckless miscreants and reported them to the school secretary, expecting her to notify the proper authorities and begin the process of arrest and trial. She listened politely, but obviously didn't fully appreciate my commitment to asphalt justice.
Now, many years later, not much has changed. Speeders are more numerous than ever, and "road rage" is a hot media topic. But for most people, driving is a boring subject. I find this baffling, since getting behind the wheel of a car is the most dangerous thing an average American will ever do.
This is also the main reason I can't get excited by controversial issues such as pesticide residues on food, or pornographic web sites. Those problems may be significant, but they don't kill 50,000 people each year.
Occasionally, I wish the government would contact all former Safety Patrol members, issue new designer-label sweaters, and give us the authority to flag down violators and deliver a stern lecture. I suspect, however, that our warnings would only make careless car jockeys even madder and more aggressive.
Also frustrating is the fact that good drivers seldom get any public acknowledgment. There is no MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant for those of us who follow the rules, remain calm at all times, and treat other drivers with courtesy.
But I certainly won't make any changes in my cautious, lackluster motoring style. It's kept me out of serious trouble.
And when I pass the Safety Patrol guards in my area, they smile and wave, and no one ever reports me to the office.
* Jeffrey Shaffer, a former safety guard at Addison Elementary School in Palo Alto, Calif., writes humorous essays from Portland, Ore.