Sunday, November 3, 2013

Editorial: Americans have given up on being better drivers

Image courtesy of beaubeen.com
It saddens me to even compose this, but this study by the AAA Foundation seems to point towards more Americans taking bad driving behaviors less seriously that in past years. What worries me the most is not just that we are less aware of how these bad driving behaviors affect other drivers on the road, but the fact that an increasing number of individuals seem to suffer from "do as I say, not as I do" syndrome. The fact that there are so many people who are quick to condemn, but not alter their own behavior just goes to show the ever increasingly selfish streak that our society seems to be developing. I realize that I sound like a ranting, crotchety old man, but it frustrates me to no end because of how often I have recently had run-ins with people who were so inattentive or dangerous behind the wheel that they nearly caused an accident. The worst part is that this is entirely preventable.

Most people quickly reach a point in their driving careers where they have gotten comfortable and many actions become mechanically rote or habitual. Over time, their bad habits become ingrained and they are no longer able to recognize that what they are doing is wrong or dangerous. However, we offer no way to go about breaking those habits because we do not require any kind of periodic testing to demonstrate that we continue to practice good driving skills. In fact, a driver can obtain their license at the age of 16, taking the driving test a grand total of one time, and never have to take any kind of test again to reaffirm that they are actually capable and safe drivers. This means that no matter where that individual moves within the United States, no matter how different driving laws or driving conditions may be, they will not be required to ever update their driving skills to reflect those changes.

Image courtesy of carhelp.com
While the idea of having to regularly take a driver's exam does not appeal to me either, I have to at least admit that I see the merit of requiring it. The mechanics of driving may not change much, but some of the laws can and often do change. For instance, some places do not allow right turns on red, Idaho allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, and Virginia requires that drivers allow a full empty lane when passing stopped emergency vehicles. Some of these are certainly easy enough to pick up, but others require some level of conscious effort to undo habits that have been ingrained in us by years of driving the same way. Additionally, this is an opportunity for us to take a fresh look at how we look at the practice of driving and how we can reinforce good behaviors while helping to eliminate some bad ones. Oftentimes, we may develop those bad habits without even realizing it and a periodic assessment might help tease out some of those and force us to correct them.

We have to remember that driving is not a right, it is a privilege to be earned. If we abuse that privilege, we should have every expectation that it will be taken from us. By not concerning ourselves with the bad driving behaviors, no matter how innocuous it may feel to us at the time, we run the risk of increasing the tolerance of them to a point that may result in the continued degradation of our collective driving skill level over time. If we take the opportunity to correct these issues now, as well as put in place a system to ensure that we keep up with the latest changes in traffic laws, especially as they pertain to other non-car road users, it will help to make the roads a safer and more enjoyable place for all.