Friday, April 12, 2013

On Driving

I spent an easy hour at the DMV yesterday renewing my drivers license. The DMV is an interesting place. For a 16-year-old, it’s exciting and nerve-wracking. The unknown that comes with a driving test followed by the freedom of being able to transport yourself anywhere your 1984 Mercury Marquis with the droopy ceiling can bring you. Once you’ve passed your initial exam however, it’s basically the world’s most depressing place. People begin to take driving for granted, even by the time you renew your license on your 21st birthday, it’ not a big deal.

But it is a big deal.

I’m amazed at how little training goes into the skill of driving a car safely. I had six hours of actual behind the wheel instruction when I was 15 (not including hours of my mom yelling at me). So, six hours of training half my life ago. That doesn’t seem like enough when you’re barreling down the freeway at 80 miles per hour inches from other people doing the exact same thing. It’s amazing to me that there aren’t more crashes every year. It’s probably one of the most dangerous things people do continually. And they do it with little regard for safety; texting while they’re stopped at a light, putting on their seat belt only because they saw a cop, even loud music in a dynamic driving environment is distracting.

It makes me wonder why there isn’t continuing education when it comes time to renew your license. Make people take a class teaching proper use of eyes, steering wheel management, proper body position, and anticipatory driving. Then, take them onto a track with an instructor who will teach them how to control their car in a skid, high speed evasive steering, off road recovery, weight transfer, and emergency braking. Don’t make it a test, instead call it training so people come away a better driver.

A friend of mine has his nine-year-old driving go-karts. Of course, it’s fun father/daughter bonding time, but it’s also teaching her the hand-eye-foot coordination required to safely operate a vehicle later in life. At the go-kart track she’s free to skid around corners, avoid crashes, and go as fast as she wants. He told me one of his proudest moments was when she got into a skid and her little head was still pointed down the track where she wanted to go...and where she ultimately ended up. I think that’s a great start to becoming a safe driver.

I don’t think advanced driver training will ever be available for the majority of the population which is too bad, especially after I saw a 19-year-old girl hold up her hands to see which one made an L during her eye test. Yikes.


Nancy Holte said...

Hey! I only yelled once - and that was when you ran a red light. Raising my voice and yelling are two totally different things. AND, the speed limit on the freeway is at tops 70 - not 80. Just sayin'.

Maarten Albarda said...

I am originally from the Netherlands, and when I moved to the US I had to re-do my drivers exam in order to obtain a US drivers license. I don't mean for this to be a "everything is better where I from" post but if my driving test was anything to go by then all newly minted drivers are a danger to themselves an others. Here is how "we" do it in Holland:

- you can't drive a car until you're 18
- you need to take mandatory drivers lessons from a licensed driving school
- this may take 6 months at a minimum before you're deemed eligible for taking the exam
- only the school can enter you for an exam, so the instructors only can decide if you're ready
- the driving exam takes an hour and is in real traffic.
- it does not take 10 minutes, and involves more than mine (in GA at the time) which came down to driving forward, backward and one parking maneuver all in an enclosed parking lot
- the theoretic exam is the same, i.e. a computer aided multiple choice process where you need to have a minimum score to pass

I have no statistics on accidents in Holland vs. the US involving young drivers. I do know that in the US you're putting, as you appropriately put it, a dangerous weapon in very unskilled and immature hands.

I know it will never change, and for every irresponsible young driver there are countless equally irresponsible older drivers. But to me, the 16 is top of the list of not so smart driving policies.