Many people are talking about the latest safety features designed to prevent accidents where driver error was the cause. And many people are talking about distracted drivers and how to make driving safer for them while they text, dial, shave, read the paper, etc. The discussions (not to mention the market’s solutions) all center around making the car safer while ignoring the responsibility of the driver.
Whatever happened to paying attention when you’re behind the wheel? We all know it’s the only real answer, yet we keep allowing people to get away with being distracted. It’s like we’re afraid to say what the real problem is. The real problem is that it’s become acceptable to be a passive participant instead of an active one. (This is a symptom of our society in general, but I’ll stay on topic here and limit the post to driving.)
I’m not a big fan of loading up cars with so many safety features that it takes the driver’s responsibility out of the equation. The only way I see that working is if (and when) we eventually get to the stage of automatically controlled vehicles – vehicles where there is no driver, only passengers. But, until we reach that level of technology, the only solution seems to be driver responsibility. Like most Americans, I took my driver’s test at age 16 (though, unlike most Americans, I passed on the first try), and I’ve always thought that the privilege to drive was not taken seriously by anyone – drivers or DMV. It’s far too easy to get a drivers license and far too dangerous to put any average idiot behind the wheel. Driving is a “privilege” and not a “right”, as many people believe. Our licenses can be taken away if we abuse them. So how is distracted driving and putting other drivers in danger not considered abuse? How is it acceptable that we are “allowed” to pilot a 2000lb vehicle simply because we memorized some rules and can maneuver around cones in an empty lot? Forklift drivers and backhoe operators have stricter training than we do for driving a car – and they aren’t even operating around other moving vehicles. If we make the driver training more involved and more accurate to actual driving conditions (ie taking driving tests in simulators), the drivers on the road – the ones who actually have the ability and sense to operate a vehicle properly and thus pass the test – will be much more competent and safe. And this test should be repeated every 10 years or so, to make sure we are still capable of operating a moving vehicle (this is especially important for the elderly). Getting a lifetime license because we passed a simple test at age 16 is irresponsible (and if anyone thinks the DMV driver test is hard, they shouldn’t be behind the wheel). My best friend when I was 17 failed the test twice, and passed on his third try. In the five years following, he wrecked three cars on his own! (one of them a mint condition '73 Mustang convertible). He’s a terrible driver (as should have been noted by the DMV when he failed the test twice). My dad began showing me the bits and pieces of driving at a young age, so that when I was old enough, I’d already become familiar with most aspects of driving. That included not only maneuvering the car, but being safe, aware and knowing when to be assertive and when to chill out. Driving in the real world takes a lot more attention and skill than just being able to maneuver a solo car in an empty parking lot. Train our drivers better and make the tests more like what we would encounter in the real world and we’ll have better drivers. Millions of people will be upset because they have to “earn” their license, but millions more will be alive. There are many other benefits to having safer drivers, but I’ll save that for another time.