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According to current information, teenage drivers stand a higher than average chance of crashing a motor vehicle. Note, I do not use the term accident, which is far too cute and forgiving. Crash, wreck, or collision would be more appropriate, since most of these events can be avoided.
There are all kinds of theories about problems with young drivers, the most prevalent of which is inexperience. How odd, and tragic as well, that we don’t bother to give these kids the kind of driver training that could save lives. I do not mean endless lectures or scary movies. We all saw those in driver’s ed, and the effect was minimal. The difficulty with that approach is that it is almost impossible to scare, browbeat or bully a person into total submission, regardless of how valid the safety message may be. Most kids experiment with skateboards, bikes, and all sorts of other toys. Young cowboys often like to ride wild horses. Chances are, whether through peer pressure or just for fun, at some point a new driver will put the pedal to the metal. Experienced drivers may as well. Yet we don’t even teach them the number one bailout manoeuvre, an emergency stop. Nor do we spend much time on how to do an emergency lane change safely, tactics for today’s vehicles and driving environment, correct use of eyesight, and more.
Some stability control systems can feel pretty freaky when they kick in. If you don’t know this, there is the possibility of a wrong reaction, as happened often with anti-lock brakes. An uneducated driver would slam on the brakes, not know why the pedal was vibrating, let go of the brakes or try to pump them, and crash anyway. Correct wheel handling is very important as well, especially in today’s airbag equipped cars. That cool one hand draped on top of the wheel position is a sure ticket to broken arms and faces.
Graduated licensing is a worthwhile concept, though it is possible the positive statistics on the benefits have been cooked like yesterday’s leftovers. I wonder why at the very least, a new driver doesn’t get to try at least thirty, preferably a hundred, full emergency stops during the course of their training. It should also be part of the driving exam, at least as important as signalling a lane change. Even with anti-lock brakes, most drivers, let alone teens, do not do a very good job of a true panic stop.
What of older drivers and mandatory retesting? If such a thing actually dealt with vehicle dynamics and skill development, perhaps it would be worthwhile, but then it should be introduced across the board. Of course, this would require that examiners be elite drivers in their own right, fully up to date on technique and technology as well as regulations. Once again, at the very least, and anti-lock stop should be part of the test, as well as stuff like merging into fast moving traffic. Until we fine-tune the examiners, any policy changes are useless.
Another point to consider is that legislation is often outdated before it is even introduced. The current expression in California is that sixty years old is the new forty. In other words, with exercise, good health care, exercise, and a lucky dip in the gene pool, we should expect to remain active longer. At the Whistler/Blackcomb Ski School, we have quite a few full time pros in their seventies, and a few in their eighties. Are we going to discriminate against the future’s active one hundred and ten year olds with laws that are at least that far behind the times?
Bring on optional upgrade training for all age groups. I suspect most drivers would jump at that sort of chance, especially if government sponsored and reasonably priced. Why waste money on legislation, when it could be spent on learning? Improve the skills and understanding of trainers and examiners. As for more laws, we should be careful. It is far easier to introduce legislation than to modify or repeal it.
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