For the first time in a long time, I’m going to come off snarky. There. I said it. Usually that is reserved for some of my co-hosts on this podcast (Editor's Note: HEY! I'm not snarky, I'm cynical.) but today? It’s me. Today, I’d like to discuss why drivers’ education in this country is a joke. Now, some of you may be thinking, “Is he serious? It took me FOREVER to get my license!” And no. I’m not. Being someone who has had the luck and privilege to travel all over this fine country by automobile, I can tell you, again, it is an absolute joke.
Let's start with the fact that the main facet of any drivers education program is classroom based. Then, tie onto it the fact this takes place at 15 and a half years old for most states, and you have a recipe for disaster. Kids suck at classroom learning. Experiential learning is a far better use of their time. Getting young people to sit, read, listen, and retain information is difficult. It’s something that requires years of learning just on the teacher’s part to master. Now, remember, what they are learning (or not learning) will have the ability to ruin them legally, financially, or just physically. Just to add some spice and excitement to this whole process, most kids simply begin driving around with their parents or a driving instructor on PUBLIC ROADS! With other people who have gone through the same process! Now, in the case of driving school cars, at least those are marked with large signs to allow us to avoid them. That… helps? As long as whatever they’re going to destroy can read. Trees don’t care about the student driver plaque on the car. Or deer. Tootle around in your parents’ or driving instructor’s car on public roads for about six months and ta-da! You’re fully licensed to drive whatever car you’d like, at any time of day, with as many people in the car as you can cram in there legally.
No single step of this process takes place on private roads, a track, or even a closed lot. Anything even related to “defensive driving” is an afterthought that needs to be taken at an entirely different place than most regular driver’s ed classes. Especially in my part of the world, that may be the the most glaring omission. We know all about how far from the curb we can be when we back up or that we need to turn left to left, but nothing about the concept of recovering from a skid with a little opposite lock, nothing about keeping track of where our escape points are should an obstacle suddenly appear in the road. Those who are fully licensed may have NO idea about any of these things. That is very dangerous.
Compare all of this information to anything about the process of getting a driver’s license in many European countries. A place that I have some experience with is Germany. And compared to Germany, we are just handing out licenses. German schools have lessons that take place both on public roads (but with full mirrors, pedals, and other controls for the instructor). But they also have more technical lessons that take place in private. If you take your test on an automatic transmission? You’re not certified to drive a manual! They also have to pass a mandatory first aid class! It doesn’t even strictly have anything to do with driving. Now, I know that Germany has places with unrestricted speed limits, etc. That said, German driving schools fail about a quarter of all of their students. A quarter. Think about that.
Now, that’s not say that we need to fail 25+% of all our drivers. We can even aim to pass most of them. But, we could definitely add more actual education to the “driver’s education” idea. Many things prevent us from having things like Autobahns. So, we don’t really need some of the things they have in Germany. We can keep our driving age at 15.5 instead of 18 like Germany. We often need to drive far earlier than Germans because of the sheer size of our country. Any kind of defensive driving (heck my motorcycle safety course even had that!), more extensive instructor control of the learning car, and some more in-depth written testing would go a long way. I would even go as far as to say I’d be happy to RE-certify every few years. We have to pay to renew our licenses, but we don’t really get re-evaluated. Any other thing that involves the potentiality for killing or injuring so many people and damaging so much property always has a recertification process. I don’t think the entire American driving public is a menace. I think most of us do just fine. However, it is the most dangerous thing we, as a country, do on a daily basis. Why not make the testing a little more stringent to allow people to do it?