Are we Driving Towards the Ditch?

In the immediate years before reaching the age of 16, I had many teachers remind us that driving was not a right. “There is no place in the laws of the United States of America that guarantees each and every person the right and freedom to drive a car,” they would state. It is up to us to prove we are capable in order to make use of the privilege.

Were they teachers trying to instill fear and responsibility into us? Yes. Of course they were. But I remember taking my written test for my driver’s license, and it was a far cry from a privilege. As soon as I answered the first 14 out of 20 questions correctly, I was free to tear up the streets with a lean, mean, potentially killing machine. That’s right, 14 correct answers, a quick drive around the block with an officer, and I was off!

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed that it was simple enough to be able to drive. I had been driving all types of vehicles since I was a kindergartner (snowmobiles, boats, cars, trucks, ATVs, mopeds), so driving a car was simply the next progression towards true mobility. Even at 16 and wanting the formalities out of the way, it still seemed too simple. All I had to do was take this one test and I was good for the rest of my life to drive on any street in this country. Again, assuming I followed the rules. But what are the rules, and are we going about fixing driving in the wrong ways?

The only people I know, or have heard of, who have permanently lost their licenses stem from one of two issues: extreme drunk driving incidents or accidents caused by old age. Both are valid to have licenses revoked, and there are probably others, but I can’t think of any that I have heard of. Hell, even for some repeat drunk drivers it’s simply a matter of time and a few classes before they can get their privilege back. Vehicular homicide? Usually a certain amount of time without driving. Hit a bicyclist for failing to know the rules bicyclists have? Better not do that again! And then I came across this in Jalopnik:

“The Government Wants Your Cars to Brake for You”

I’m all for safety, and I’m all for using technology to enhance said safety. At the end of the day, however, any feature a car has cannot account for user irresponsibility. To be fair, from the article in Jalopnik it seems that the National Highway Traffic Administration was referring to a system “which turns on in slower traffic to stop people from crashing into a car in front of them or, worse, a person.” I’m just of the belief that people should be responsible for what they’re doing, whether it be eating junk food or driving a car, and the government should not be trying to accommodate the weakest among us. There are few things people do so frequently that has so much power to hurt than to drive.

Rather than create redundancy after redundancy, let’s try something simpler. Let’s start by having higher standards for drivers. Some states have started requiring drivers over a certain age to renew their license in person to be able to prove they are still capable of driving. To me that screams agism, and it doesn’t capture the 40-50 years of constant law changes that other drivers are not responsible for learning because there is no one mandating that knowledge.

Step one: If driving is so much a privilege, everyone (yes, everyone) should have to pass a written exam each time they want to renew their license. Spending 30 minutes to answer some questions once every five to seven years should not be that much of an imposition for the freedom of driving. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the written exams should be a bit longer than they currently are, not as simple as 14 out of 20 correct answers. Would doubling it to 28 out of 40 really hurt?

Step two: No more exclusive tests. Just because you aren’t applying for a motorcycle license along with your class D does not mean that you won’t interact with motorcycles out on the road. Let’s tack on semi’s with that, too. Also, did you know that bicyclists are entitled to most of the same rules as a vehicle? You should, and that stuff should be on the written exam even if you don’t know how to ride a bike. Ignorance of road laws should not be tolerated.

Step three: Touch screens are great, but maybe not at 80mph. Knobs and buttons in a car have practical purposes, such as turning on the heat or A/C. They also allow the driver to feel around for what they’re looking for without taking their eyes off of the road. If there is one thing that makes a good driver, it’s a driver who can keep his/her eyes on the road and not on switching between multiple screens just to find a radio station.

Step four: It amazes me that we can create cars that will stop automatically when they sense something in front of them, such as another car’s bumper. The problem isn’t the other car, it’s that the driver didn’t notice. So this is really a problem about distraction. There are plenty of rules about cell phones and cars, but maybe we could put some ingenuity into designing a car that can sense when a driver is talking or texting on a cell phone that isn’t utilizing the car’s bluetooth connectivity. I’m sure it’s possible.

Ultimately I just think we could improve our roads significantly without too much effort. And that little bit of effort is surely worth it when it comes to life and limb, right?

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