Is it just me, or does the current media focus on P-plate
drivers seem a little unfair? It’s tough
enough being a young, newly licensed driver without adding the pressure of
almost constant media scrutiny and attack.
The majority of these drivers are responsible young adults, but driving
in Sydney’s hectic traffic is not for the faint-hearted so is it any wonder
that drivers with low levels of experience feature more highly in accident
And there lies part of what I believe is the crux of the
matter – experience.
The other thing that I believe contributes in no small way
is the pathetic driver training given to these people. The licensing system in NSW is pathetic – it
simply teaches people how to pass a test.
It does absolutely nothing to teach people how to drive. The government has attempted to make it look
like it is doing something by introducing a longer period between application
for a Learner’s Permit and sitting for a driver’s license, and requiring
learner drivers to have a certain minimum number of hours behind the wheel and
maintain a log book as evidence. This
system is so open to abuse, it’s laughable.
There is too much anecdotal evidence around to say that the stories of
parents “fudging” their child’s log book hours are all untrue.
Another thing that I find amazing is that, in NSW at least,
non-english speaking applicants for a driver’s license are able to undertake
the exams in their own language, a point I have commented on before. This is simply appalling! How are these non-english speaking people
supposed to understand road signs, or verbal instructions from police or other
Having watched members of my own family go through the NSW
driver’s licensing system and then seen the result on the road, I made sure
they received additional driver training of the same type that I did as a newly
licensed driver in my teens. I have
always been a great supporter of the “schools” that employ
professional drivers to teach responsible attitude, road awareness and crash avoidance
skills, and the skills to regain control of a skidding or spinning motor
vehicle. It’s simply not possible to
understand the dynamics of a car that is spinning or skidding on a wet or loose
surface until you have actually experienced it.
A lot of accidents occur because drivers suddenly find themselves having
to make an emergency stop for some reason, and they have never experienced what
a skidding car feels like. The
result? They become just another
passenger in the car, frozen into inaction by their lack of knowledge and
uselessly holding the steering wheel and waiting for the “ride” to
stop. That stop is invariably a hard one
when they hit an immoveable object.
So, how do we improve the situation? I don’t hold myself out to be a guru here,
far from it. However, I will suggest
some steps that I think go a long way to alleviate the problems.
1. Get them early.
Start teaching our children proper attitudes from an early age. This is a parental responsibility, so all you
people with kids better realise that if you have bad habits, your kids are
learning it right from the first time they travel in the car with you. These lessons will stick with them for life.
2. More driver education programs in schools. It seems to work well in the USA (one of the
few good things to come from their education system it appears), so why
shouldn’t it be done here? Part of this
education should involve lectures from Police Highway Patrol officers,
including pictures of crash scenes with statistics like estimated speed of the
vehicles, road conditions, etc, so that students can understand the link
between these things, and how easily cars bend at relatively slow speeds. As gruesome as it may sound, outings to
hospital accident wards might also be valuable in providing a wake up call to
them that they aren’t “bullet-proof”.
3. The log book system has a lot of merit as evidence of
driving in conditions that aren’t ideal, such as in rain, fog, and/or at night,
on roads with loose surfaces, etc.
However, it is clearly open to abuse in it’s present form. Perhaps there could be some sort of
electronic “log book” developed that at least provides evidence of
time behind the wheel, although I expect this would require the co-operation of
the car makers in providing a common interface for the “log-book” to
be plugged in to the car. The device
would also require security features to prevent it’s data being falsified,
things like bio-identification (a finger print pad or the like).
4. Compulsory attendance at a professional car control
course where they learn, in a safe, controlled environment, what an out of
control car feels like and what to do and NOT to do to bring the car back under
control. I’m not suggesting an advanced
course where they learn high speed manoeuvres, simply a basic course focussed
on road awareness and crash avoidance, with a back up of skid control
techniques. In fact, might I go so far
as to suggest they do such a course twice before attaining a full license? Once when on their L-plates prior to
obtaining their red P-plates, then again as part of the application for a full
license at the end of their green P-plate period.
5. This idea could be used across the board for all drivers,
P-plate or full license. Develop a
system of positive reinforcement. Why
not award additional license points to drivers with good driving
histories? I’m sure a suitable formula
could be worked out, perhaps half a point for every year without an
infringement notice or other driving related penalty? This would give drivers more reason to aspire
to better driving skills and road behaviour.
Taking this one step further, award additional points to drivers that
take regular refresher courses at driver training courses and/or that
voluntarily re-sit the driving license exams as proof they are keeping up with
C’mon people, let’s help our kids with positive support, not
hinder them with ever more repressive rules and regulations.
This article appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald web site on 4/11/2006:
The government’s proposals won’t help. The system needs drastic change, not band-aid