Friday, May 27, 2005

Stupid Drivers 

I live in LA and I drive in LA and, daily, I'm appalled by the stupidity of my fellow drivers. Now, while I don't think LA has the worst drivers in the US (out of staters from Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey and anywhere in Canada take the awards there), I still think that all drivers, everywhere, suck, with few exceptions.

Now, there's a study to prove my point. (Ah yes -- a study for everything.) According to this auto insurance funded study, 1 in 10 American drivers would fail their state licensing test if they took it today. And I have no doubt at all that that figure is true.

When it comes to even the basics, I think that most drivers are clueless. For example, most of them don't seem to know that "right turn on red" means "turn right when traffic is clear and you have the right of way", not "turn right after you've sort of kind of stopped for the red light." And when it comes to exiting driveways into traffic, they seem to think the rule is this: "If you take up the entire driveway so that nobody can get in, you obviously have right of way pulling out." Um... nope.

Other traffic rules people apparently follow: you don't need to signal to change lanes if it's obvious you're going to change lanes because you suddenly hit your brakes in the fast lane; if two freeways merge, you have a divine right to move to your left immediately, whether or not there are cars there, and whether or not you're going as fast as traffic in that lane; right turns should be made from as far to the left as possible, without signaling, and after coming to a complete stop in traffic; the bigger car always has the right of way; when two lanes of traffic are merging, it's best to get as close as possible to the car in front of you, so that merging traffic will slow down.

And so on. Although I lay a lot of the blame on state DMVs for this. I took the drivers' test exactly once in my life, when I first got my license at sixteen. Ever since then, it's been "Send us the money and we'll send you the document." Which is pathetic. Hell, I think my father hadn't retaken the test since before I had my license, and he was driving up until his eighth decade on the planet.

Which gives me an idea that will end the joke concept of traffic school and put some teeth into driving law. It's simply this -- if you get a traffic school-worthy infraction, to clear it, all you have to do is go to the DMV and pass the written and driving test. Simpler than sitting for eight hours in a classroom, right? The catch is, if you don't pass the tests, you don't get your license back.

Yeah, I can hear people bitching and moan about that right now, but y'know what? (Tiny violin). Driving truly is a privilege, not a right -- and in order to get a privilege, you have to earn it. From what I see on the roads every day, two thirds of people with cars do not deserve the privilege of driving. I'm sure most of them haven't taken the test since the day they crammed for it, either. And most of them have forgotten the rules in the mean time.

Or, here's a fair variation -- gradated licenses, denoted by stickers on the car license plate. Let's say we group the drivers as A, B and C based on their tests. A drivers get to use the left lanes, not stop for freeway onramp meters, etc., basically getting all kinds of goodies that make rush hour easy. B drivers get some of those privileges at rush hour. C drivers do not. D drivers and below do not get to drive. And everyone gets retested every ten years. Yeah, sure -- it's a meritocracy, so sue me.

But driving -- by which people get into and operate multi-ton machines at high rates of speed, and via which thousands die every year -- is not something to be taken lightly. Whether or not this auto insurance funded survey is biased, I don't know -- I doubt not -- but the bottom line is this: most professionals are re-tested constantly for recertification -- doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, accountants. There's no reason that drivers shouldn't have to do the same. After all, out of those other professions, very few will kill people if they screw up.

And the only accidents I've ever had while driving were caused by asshats who didn't know the rules, or who didn't care. One drunk driver, one who ran a red light, one who thought she didn't have to look before she pulled her SUV into traffic.
According to the study, many drivers find basic practices, such as merging and interpreting road signs, difficult.

For instance, one out of five drivers doesn't know that a pedestrian in a crosswalk has the right of way, and one out of three drivers speeds up to make a yellow light, even when pedestrians are present, the study said.
Yep. And I've seen all those mistakes every single day I get on the road.

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