This year when my insurance policy was renewed and they tallied up the Safe Driver Incident Surcharge Points for me, they decided that the 1997 "Major Accident" I'd been involved in no longer counted against me. For those who actually live in a sane state or country, Massachusetts imposes a surcharge on your yearly insurance premium based on how safe your driving record has been. That seems fine and dandy, one must admit, as the safer you are, the less you have to pay on your already overinflated automobile insurance (we run it like a fine-tuned extortion racket here.)
The Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP for short, which I think was a very popular bass singer syllable back in the 50s) uses a numbered "Step" scale and as in golf, the lower your step number, the better you're doing. Various infractions to your record -- such as moving violations, accidents where you are at fault, and failure to take the left immediately after the light turns green -- will move you up a few points, depending on the severity of the infraction. A minor moving violation like running a red light and getting caught will put one point on your record. A major accident where you are at fault will net you four points. Giving a New Hampshire or New York driver the right-of-way adds 10 and you also have to wear a stupid hat. However, each year in which you do not do anything stupid, they take one point off your record, and as each point is a 7.5% surcharge on the basic insurance policies you have to have, it's really a good idea to shave as many points off as possible.
With me so far? Pretty simple, right? Well, yeah, it sounds simple cause I done summed it up good, and I gots brains God gave a goose. The state, naturally, has to take matters into its own hands and throw seemingly arbitrary monkey wrenches of obfuscation into the mix, just to keep you on your toes.
For one, most people refer to this plan as "Safe Driver Points" which is incorrect. That would assume the points are obtained by being a safe driver. Perhaps when we use this terminology, we are going for the positive spin on things, as "Moron Behind The Wheel Points" may just hit too close to home to too many people. But that's really not the state's fault, is it? Probably not, and they've got more important things to spend their money on than a "HEY IT'S NOT CALLED 'SAFE DRIVER POINTS' PEOPLE" campaign.
What the state does do to mess with your minds is institute a wholly bizarre numbering system into things. I mean, sure, we've got this fine rating system that tells you the less points you've got the better -- but the scale arbitrarily stops at 9. The safest you can be in Safe Driver Land is a 9. Presumably there are 8 other surcharges that apply to you that you can't do a single thing about, or perhaps some government worker really liked the number 9. I suppose I could try to research it or something, but it's funnier just to realize that there's this wacky arbitrary rating system in place and for some reason they can't just go "Okay, remember Step 9? Well, let's pretend that zero is Step 9, so if you have 0, then yabba dabba doo! A safe driver is you!"
Note that you don't start at 9, either. Nope, in the fine Catholic tradition of bringing you into the world with Original Sin, as a new driver in Massachusetts you start at 15 and must work your way back to 9. Well, okay, someone's gotta be the default and it might as well be 15. That also means there's also six steps you have to take in order to rehabilitate yourself, which is half the steps as many major rehabilitation programs, so already you're a winner when you start with the SDIP. You're halfway there, Charles.
Well, this all brings us back to that fateful day in 1997, my first year driving my Very Own Car What I Pays Insurance On, when I spun out during a snowstorm, faced an 18-wheeler headon, and, steering into the skid, managed to come out of it with just a busted up left-hand turn signal. The truck suffered no damage though the driver was understandably very very worried about it, because, as he told me while we was swapping insurance information and waiting for the cops to finish writing it up, "if you'd gone under my tires I'd have been at fault. They always blame the truck driver when shit like that happens." I'd be willing to believe, in my rose-tinted nostalgic look back, that that was as close to a compassionate "Sure glad you're ok there, little buddy" as he could get.
My mistake happened when the officer on the scene asked me how much damage I'd suffered. This happened maybe five minutes after the accident so I was still quite shaken and, in my shaken mode, I'd had a bit of trouble restarting the car to move it to the side of the road. So I quite naively told the cop "Uh my left hand turn signal is busted and I couldn't start the car I think I may have trouble with the engine or something." Of course, this turned out not to be, the engine was fine, and I'd only end up paying $35 to get the turn signal replaced -- but the cop had checked off "over $1000 in damage" and that means Major Accident. And come 1998, I had four Very Unsafe Driver Points added to my record.
Five years later, however, those points are gone. I've spent these five years very safely avoiding accidents and tickets (I've only ever gotten one speeding ticket, and that was in 2000 while driving outside Columbia, South Carolina, but apparently they never notified the SDIP board) so I've been carefully whittling my points down back to the Holy 15 and beyond. But today I received my SDIP Summary for 2003 and lo and behold, the 4 points for the Major Accident in 1997 have turned into 0 Points.
So now I'm a Step 10 driver. That's one point away from being Mr. Smarty Mans In Car or something. I didn't expect this for ... well, four more years, really (I finally made Step 15 last year and oh how proud we were...)
Now I just know I'm gonna jinx it and tomorrow just plow into some pedestrians or something while my gaze is summarily distracted by a bumblebee. Bumblebee!
But for tonight, I revel.