Unless your surname is Obama, Merkel or Zuma, there are few things you can do on a daily basis that affects more people than when you drive on a public road. Think about it: you probably pass hundreds of vehicles every day, during which time you have the potential to create havoc or, in most cases, not become a road-traffic statistic.
Provided you remember the K53, observe diligently, don’t panic or crash into someone, you’re assured of walking away with a permit to operate a vehicle.
In comparison, you need to conduct four days of testing to obtain a basic scuba-diving qualification. Diving has the potential to affect just one life, that of the diver, but the testing procedures are stringent and, rightly so, involves a great deal of theoretical and practical detail. However, I will bet a typical scuba diver will know more about the workings of a regulator or a buoyancy-control vest than they would about the braking system of their car.
I am not going to jump onto the bandwagon and blame the traffic authorities, minister of transport, et al, for the bulk of the problems we have on our roads. I am not going to lament the prevalence of unroadworthy vehicles or unnecessary speed trapping, either. What upsets me is the ease with which the authorities hand out driver’s licences.
The Bill of Rights in the Constitution states that you have the right to clean water, health care, basic education, etc., but nowhere does it refer to your right to drive a vehicle. So why do we hand out permits so easily? It’s more difficult to get a gun licence than it is to get a driver’s license, but probably more innocent people were killed in car accidents than in gun-related incidents last year.
I propose that traffic authorities make it far more difficult to obtain a driver’s licence. First of all, the price of the test needs to increase to keep any chancers from taking the test without enough practical experience. Everyone knows someone who has taken their driving test three times, or more. Therefore, the test should be expensive enough that you really only take it when you are confident that you will pass.
Secondly, make it mandatory for applicants to undergo advanced theoretical training so that they understand the adverse effect of added mass on a car’s performance or its ability to avoid an accident in a preventative manoeuvre. The number of head-on collisions that claim innocent lives is staggering. How is it possible that your sense of self-preservation does not instinctively kick-in when faced with such mortal danger?
Learner drivers need to be instructed in such a way that they will be prepared for a far greater variety of traffic situations. As it stands, driving instructors spend weeks showing students how to park. And, if you’ve ever watched a typical driver trying to reverse into a parallel bay, it seems that they don’t even perfect that basic exercise.
Furthermore, students should spend an allotted amount of time learning to drive on rural roads, on motorways, at night and, very importantly, in the wet. The very first time a new driver experiences wet-road conditions could be months after their test and so the new dangers afforded by the slippery surfaces present an uncharted territory.
There should also be a theoretical aspect based purely on basic mechanics. Nothing as hectic as being able to disassemble and reassemble an engine while blindfolded, mind you, but it should be a basic course in physics and how it applies to a car, such as the effects of swerving at high speed, the repercussions of continuously standing on your brake pedal while descending a steep decline, the loss of grip experienced in the wet, and how to adjust your driving style to suit various road conditions. A basic understanding of those aspects could, perhaps, help you avoid an accident.
The authorities really need to address the problem at its root. There is little point in fining someone after you granted their licence in haste and then you wonder why they drive so abysmally