Why Tougher Driver Training Laws Won’t Work *UPDATED

Driver training

I think most of us, maybe some teens excepted, want our driver training laws to work. The basic reason they won’t is that driving a car is considered a sacred right in America, not to be infringed by restrictions on “personal liberty.”

Our auto safety piece posted last Friday has gotten some interesting comments. Both commenters endorse the fact that cars are now safer than ever, better equipped to withstand crashes and correct for stupid driver behavior. Both also endorsed the idea of better driver training and tougher licensing as a way to mitigate our highway disasters.

Almost everybody would endorse that, right? But it’s mostly lip service because of several factors.

One: States have conflicting requirements and different ideas about graduated licensing systems. Our man tgriffith recently had some thoughts about this problem, yet there hasn’t been much push for a nationally standardized system. It is hard to deny that we desperately need stricter licensing laws.

Two: Increasing insurance premiums for inexperienced or bad drivers has not proven effective in stopping accidents or making better drivers. A list of those whom insurance companies consider “high-risk” (that is, high-cost) is here. But paying more to be insured certainly doesn’t make you a better driver. Louisiana has the highest car insurance rates in the nation—and some of the worst drivers.

Three: Most bad drivers think they are good drivers. Take this short quiz, and see how you fare.

Finally, as I said at the top, tougher legislation and better driver training just don’t seem to be in the cards. The automobile is one of the ultimate expressions of freedom in the U.S.A., and restricting entry to that privilege is something many people will fight. It will be easier by far to change the auto safety laws—which impinge on the manufacturers—than to restrict driver freedoms.

Do you know what the driver training requirements are in your state? Have they been effective?

*UPDATE: Which age group causes (or is the driver in) most of the accidents? The pretty clear answer from reliable (U.S. Census) statistics is those aged 16-20. The figures most often quoted are that 5,000 teens aged 16 to 20 will die each year due to fatal injuries caused by car accidents. About 400,000 drivers in this age group will be seriously injured.

Teenagers constitute about 10 percent of the population and account for 12 percent of all fatal crashes. Males 16-19 are almost twice as likely to die in a crash as females.

But the second-highest risk group is drivers aged 75 and older, who have the highest per capita death rates per mile traveled (because of their fragility). These rates have been decreasing, as seniors tend to limit their driving per their capabilities and lifestyle changes.

But predictions are that the number of 70-plus year-old drivers will triple in the next 20 years, and that means that the old birds will soon outrank the teens in numbers of accidents, fatal and nonfatal. Today the teens and the codgers each as a group accounts for about 10 percent of the population, but the codgers are one-third less likely to cause accidents.


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  1. Let the states hold on to the few rights they have left! We don’t need a centralized, standardized government issue driving training program. Each state has its own driving culture, and that is important to maintain.

  2. Did any of you get into accidents as teenagers? and do you really think that not being allowed to have your friends in the car while driving would have prevented accidents? Would you have appreciated longer times of having your learner’s permit and required drivers training courses?

  3. @
    Semper fi, Colonel Greg, and keep up the good work. I’m surely not saying that driver training isn’t important for everyone. It’s just that there seem to be many barriers to getting it done. Wish we could impose a little military discipline in that regard.

  4. Ladies & Gentlemen, Something as simple and basic as driver training will reduce vehicle accidents and reduce casualties. Every life is precious and this training will hopefully save many lives.

    Here’s the article– http://www.ntm-a.com/news/categories/army/660-afghan-soldiers-learn-to-drive

    Semper Fi,

    Col Gregory T. Breazile, USMC
    NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan
    Read about us at: http://www.NTM-A.com
    Become a NTM-A Facebook fan: http://www.facebook.com/pages/NATO-Training-Mission-Afghanistan/267816944552

    “Shohna ba Shohna”(Dari)
    “Ooga-pa-Ooga” (Pashtu)
    “Shoulder to Shoulder”

  5. I am also for teaching rather than for punishing, but the younger a person is, the more careless attitide he or she has towards life and its value.. risks, speed, romantic things.. And maybe car accidents won’t stop even if all sitizens obeyed the law strictly. It of no use blaming this or that age group, to my mind.

  6. You remember that bell shaped curve from statistics class, don’t you? When it comes to drivers and accidents, turn it upside down. The drivers at either end (kids and geezers) cause a disproportionate number of accidents for their numbers. The reason is because young drivers lack the judgment and experience of mainstream drivers and tend to take more risks, and us olde folkes tend to lack the physical skills of mainstream drivers and are averse to risk. (That means they driver too slow and take too long to make decisions.) Really, the bell shape curve is not upside down if you consider the center of the curve represents an optimum balance of skill, experience, and risk aversion. In driving, it’s shifted more towards middle age, mainly because driving doesn’t begin until the late teens.

  7. @ panayoti
    @ randy
    @ Travis
    Good comments all, and I thank you.

    Randy is right to point out the decreasing highway death rate, but I think the sources of that decline are elusive at best. Yes, the cars are better, computers have aided in making them so, but as he says in his last paragraph, the big question is why we as a society continue to put up with the highway carnage. A simple answer would be that it’s a cost we are willing to pay to keep our personal automotive freedoms. I think most people cringe when they hear about federal or state regulation–meaning “graduated licensing, higher driving ages, and improved driver training.” And they will cook up a hundred reasons to keep those things from happening.

    Regarding government intervention in tobacco: There has been much progress but there is still a large group of hardcore smokers who will not quit despite every move to outlaw smoking and every bit of evidence that smoking kills. I sincerely hope that the teenage drunks and deliberately reckless drivers are not in a similar unmovable category.

    Maybe Travis is right: offer kids an interesting way to improve their skills, and just maybe they will snap it up. The carrot versus the stick.

    Dr. Panayoti suggests a really good idea, one which I thought of while I was writing the post but didn’t pursue. If our editor hasn’t had too much of this subject, I would like to follow up (using my “exemplary research skills,” naturally) and see what age groups are really most responsible. Something I saw recently said the teens were ahead of the codgers, but let’s have more data.

  8. Mr. Goods, it would be interesting to know the breakdown of accidents caused by young drivers such as the inarticulate young drivers who skewered you for your question in an earlier topic and the numbers of us old fogies who cause accidents. Mayhaps you can devote your exemplary research skills to find an answer for us?? I am predicting that many of us will be surprised with your results. I also suspect that once those results are known that the focus will shift from the younger drivers to us “more experienced” drivers. What say you??

  9. I had an interesting conversation with a NHTSA official a few years ago. Since NHTSA has funded quite a bit of research on stability systems with my company, I was discussing the lack of push for standard antilock braking systems and the potential benefit from new requirements that all vehicles in the US have stability systems by 2012. (Which also requires full 4-channel ABS.) The official cited some interesting research that showed that many drivers became overconfident of their vehicle stopping distance with ABS and that lead to an increase in tailgating and rear-enders. Of course, I was interested in finding out why NHTSA had so strongly recommended mandating stability systems, and although he felt it would also encourage overconfidence, NHTSA’s research showed that stability systems would reduce accidents so much that the overconfidence issue would not be a factor.

    At both national and state levels, our legislatures have been steadily addressing “personal rights” versus “public good” on several fronts, but most noticeably on tobacco issues. We’ve also come to recognize that other issues, such as air pollution, chemical pollution, vehicle safety and emissions, and gun control. Since the peak in US traffic deaths in 1979, our country has reduced traffic deaths as a percentage of population by more than half, which is a great achievement.

    I can think of one fundamental change that has happened that should account for this change. That change is the availability of cheap computer power. Before the late 1970’s, vehicle engineering was fairly crude compared to now, and vehicle structures were not engineered to absorb and dissipate large amounts of crash energy. Also, interiors were not as “soft”, seat belts were not widely used, and few vehicles had air bags. The ability to do high quality structural analysis and computer aided engineering, coupled with stronger safety equipment laws have been strongly responsible for this amazing drop in the highway death rate in the US.

    With that said, cars are becoming much safer, but we often see the deaths of belted drivers in airbag equipped cars. Of course, safety systems can only do so much, and a head-on crash with each vehicle going 70mph is almost always fatal. Very often, these fatal crashes are due more to poor driver vehicle control skills and/or risky behavior such as texting or cell phone use, drugs and alcohol, or dangerous driving. In the past few days in the Detroit area we’ve seen two teens killed in a rollover accident (drunk teen driver) and several others injured in reckless driving incidents.

    These are the types of behavior that must be addressed by graduated licensing, higher driving ages, and improved driver training. Of course, we will always have those who ignore the law (the teen drunk that killed two was unlicensed) but I don’t believe that ANYONE can make a case that better driver training won’t help. Educated people are proven to have reduced levels of risky behavior in any way you can measure, including STD’s, smoking, gun violence, domestic violence and criminality.

    The other part of the solution is to limit high risk groups access to cars. Most states outlawed alcohol use by those under 21 because a large part of the population proved they could not handle the responsibility, and we should recognize that this group can also not handle the responsibility of driving safely, due to the disproportionately higher level of accidents compared to the general population.

    The real question is “Why to we put up with hundreds of thousands of injuries and deaths and billions in damage and loss when we can do better?” No matter how good a driver you are, you (or a family member) have about the same chance of being killed in an accident as I do, and we all pay a large penalty in higher taxes, health insurance and auto insurance. Driving is NOT a right, it is a privilege.

  10. Rather than restricting the number of new drivers who get licenses, I think offering kids a performance driving class would be a great help. Don’t make it a requirement, make it affordable, and I bet most new drivers would want to take the class. They’d have fun and become better drivers at the same time.

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