AUTO PILOT

HOUSTON -- Randalls Food Markets here, and its Tom Thumb Food & Drug stores in Dallas, are hoping to pull extra traffic to both their video rental departments and service centers when a driver's safety video is introduced this month.The video, titled "Take-Home Defensive Driving," comes with a unique driver safety kit. Customers can view the video and take the accompanying tests in their homes instead

HOUSTON -- Randalls Food Markets here, and its Tom Thumb Food & Drug stores in Dallas, are hoping to pull extra traffic to both their video rental departments and service centers when a driver's safety video is introduced this month.

The video, titled "Take-Home Defensive Driving," comes with a unique driver safety kit. Customers can view the video and take the accompanying tests in their homes instead of going to an outside driver's education program. The program has been approved by the state of Texas for insurance discounts and dismissal of traffic tickets.

"It's something that seems right for supermarkets," said Dorothy Jones, buyer and merchandiser for video, film and service center at the 75-store Randalls chain.

The video is hosted by comedian Jeff Altman and contains a series of instructional sessions, together with humorous clips. Phil Donahue, Jerry Seinfeld and Dick Butkus appear as special guests.

The video rents for $39.99 for a three-day period. Besides the video, the kit includes a modem with a small viewing screen for reading the driver's education questions based on the video. Users answer the test questions on a keypad. Responses are sent through the modem over the telephone to U.S.A. Interactive Communications, Houston, which supplies the program to the retailer.

"This could be a cutting-edge trend with big potential for video rental and traffic for the service center," said Jones. The video program will be available at 52 Randalls stores and about 40 Tom Thumb units.

After grading the tests, the supplier faxes a certificate of completion to the store's service center, where the customers can pick up the results. They get three copies -- for their insurance carrier, the court and themselves.

The video's course of instruction has been approved by the Texas Education Agency, the regulating agency for defensive driving in Texas, said Scott Owens, president and chief executive officer at U.S.A. Interactive.

"In Texas and 42 other states, you have 90 days from the time a judge permits a driver to take a defensive driving course to eliminate a ticket from going on the driving record," Owens said. He added that in Texas, a driver's education program also can reduce insurance rates by 10% for a three-year period.