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Monday, July 2, 2012

Dangerous Drivers

Back when I was much younger, I worked for a flyer distribution company. I was in Marketing and Distribution but I did have to interact with the warehouse manager quite a bit. Ed was the warehouse manager. He was a good guy and reasonably smart, but no brain surgeon. At times he also made suspect decisions which I would have to correct. He was a hard worker who was down on his luck, but he was a friend of the owners so we gave him a job to help him out.
We used a lot of immigrants and foreigners to deliver the flyers, because it was very hard work and low paying. Not many born and raised Canadians would want to do this type of work. Ed knew a lot of recent immigrants and we hired many of them. Some had drivers licenses,  some did not. Many spoke very little English. Some spoke not a word of English.

 One day Ed told me about this guy and his brother that were living with his family that had just moved to Toronto from India. They spoke very little English and had never driven a car before. To deliver flyers you need two feet and a bit of energy, that is about it. To live in Toronto, for the most part, you need to have a car and drivers license.
So, they had to apply for a license. That requires two steps in Canada. First, you must write a written test. If you pass that, secondly, you must pass the actual road driving test. Although they are different, there is a connection between the two.

 Driving takes skill and experience is very important. We all know that novice drivers are generally not as skilled or safe as those who have been out there for about 10 or 15 years..or more. The first step is knowing the rules of the road. Some are obvious and easy to learn. Red means stop. Green means go. Yellow means proceed with caution. But, there are a lot more subtle rules, ones which the written test covers and are extremely important if you are to avoid accidents or near accidents. If you don't learn them, you are surely to be in an accident in no time.

 One of those rules is knowing and learning that the left lane is the passing lane. That is what they tell you in the drivers license study book and manual. What they don't tell you, but what every driver that the left lane is the fast lane. If you aren't willing to do at least 10 above the speed limit, you need to get out of the left lane. If you don't, you will not only be breaking the law by not passing, you will agitate the other drivers and that can become a very dangerous situation, one that can lead to serious accidents, and in some cases, deaths.
Driving is also about timing. Some can master the written test, and may even be able to barely pass the road test, but when they get out there with the rest of the real drivers, they don't have the timing or reflexes or anticipation to be able to survive in heavier traffic. I know of one or two who did not have the skills and got in very serious accidents when they first got their road driving license.


Back in my mothers day, you didn't even need to write the written test. And secondly, many didn't even take the road test. My mother, who was a terrible driver for years, and who only got marginally better as time went on, actually never took the road test. She was put in a car with 3 other potential drivers, and the tester just tested 1 of the 4, sometimes 2 of the 4, then gave actual road licenses to the others as well. You can see how this can lead to disaster, and it did. My mother got in 5 accidents in her first 6 or 7 years of driving, and 2 of them were very serious accidents causing significant damage to the car. She was so unsure of herself most of the time that she would never drive on the highway, and almost never in areas where she didn't completely know the way. And for good reason. She was bad enough on a good day, but adding any unknown variables only made it that much more dangerous. The accidents she did get into were entirely her fault and were easily avoidable if she was even a moderately skilled driver.
Now, back to Ed. Because his new house guests needed a license but spoke no English (and hence had no hope of passing the test), Ed decided he would write the test for them. Now, you would think this is a horrific thing to do. And it is. But, I know that this sort of thing goes on all the time, and at the end of the day, there are many drivers who end up on the road who really don't know the written and unwritten rules of the road.
This is easy to get away with, basically because once you show ID, the test is just given to the applicant and they are sent off to write the test. If someone were to just take the test and write it for them, the administrators would be none the wiser. Being government employees and pencil pushers, most don't care either way.

 In this case, it worked and Ed's friends got their learners permit without actually taking the test or being able to read, write, speak or understand English. They were actually considered road worthy to learn enough to attempt the road test. In essence they were now out there behind the wheel (with supervision) but did not know many of the rules of the road or the signs that tell you what they are. They were an accident waiting to happen.

 It is only a guess, but I would say upwards of 50% of the people on the road today who have licenses do not know or understand the rules of the road and why they are there.
Today, I was following a lady driving 15 under the limit in the left lane next to two other cars with no one in front of her. She was causing all sorts of havoc and she was completely oblivious to what was going on around her. She is beyond dangerous, but has no idea that she is. She is not only risking my life, but her own and possibly her loved ones if they are in the car with her.
Last night, I was following a guy who made late, dangerous lane changes when he realized he was missing his exit and then hit the brakes many times for no reason. He also did not know or care the trouble he was causing. He had his wife in the passenger seat and two younger kids strapped into the backseat. He took the care to secure them in the backseat, but not the care to learn to drive properly on the road.
These are not isolated incidents. I see them every time I am out on the road.
So, what to do about this?

 They should have a second test, one you don't know you are on. Somebody follows you for a day, with a camera mounted in their car for proof, and if you make a significant amount of driving errors, on the basics, then you should lose your license and have to start over.
The test and the standard should be much higher. Real lives are at stake. If doctors could not properly perform surgery or diagnose real health issues, would we then give them a license to do exactly that? No. So, why do we give people a license to operate a 2000 pound vehicle at speeds of 100km/hr or more without the proper skills to do that?
I have no idea how we rationalize the right to drive as a right, instead of an earned achievement based on merit and proper testing.

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