By: Jay Anderson
During the course of my 40-plus years driving, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to participate in numerous driver education programs, some in classroom settings and many behind the wheel. Unfortunately the average driver can operate a motor vehicle in most states without any requirements for continuing education.
Nearly every state has adopted some form of a strategic highway safety plan. Surprisingly, not one state has included continuing driver education in their initiatives. Florida’s plan addresses four very broad areas: intersection crashes, aggressive driving, lane departure crashes, and vulnerable road users.
Drivers typically do not seek defensive driver training unless required by an employer, or motor vehicle operators 50+ who take a course to reduce insurance premiums. Consider the impact if all fifty states included continuing education in their safety plans. The results would produce safer roadways, reducing deaths and long term disabling injuries, along with lower insurance premiums.
Let’s face facts. Driving is the most dangerous activity we participate in on a daily basis. So why shouldn’t we be required to take a refresher course each time we renew our license? Why can you kill another person with a motor vehicle and only receive a fine and points on your license? Why do habitual offenders continue to terrorize our streets? It’s because we do not take driving seriously. No one leaves in the morning thinking they won’t be coming home in the evening. Sadly in America, 90 people a day don’t make it.
A recent study of 500 male and female drivers conducted by LeaseTrader.com provides some eye-opening results. The more experience people had behind the wheel, the worse their scores on the driving test. Drivers with more than 20 years experience scored nearly eighteen percent lower than younger drivers. Ten sample questions found on written exams across the U.S. were answered by the study’s participants. No one scored every question correctly, and just over three quarters answered four or more questions incorrectly. Yes, a failing grade.
Keeping in mind that no fatality is acceptable, three deaths involving young drivers stand out. Instantly the news media began reporting in each case how the roads, intersections, lack of a traffic signal, or other factors were responsible. Each death was 100% preventable and driver error was 100% responsible.
Let’s examine the facts. A young student from Florida Gulf Coast University on her way home, attempting to avoid a crash with stopped traffic, panics, over corrects, loses control, rolls over and is ejected. Speed too fast for conditions, possible driver distraction, combined with the failure to buckle, up all add up to this preventable death.
A motorcyclist traveling well above the posted speed limit encounters another driver who turns in front of him. Failure to yield, plus excessive speed, produces fatal results. Not the road or the intersection, but both drivers who directly contributed to this fatality.
On a rainy morning an 18-year old loses control of his vehicle, crosses the center line, colliding with a pick-up truck. Automatically it becomes the road’s fault. Overlooked is the fact a young inexperienced driver, travelling too fast for conditions, fails to maintain control. Sadly the most disturbing revelation, he was not wearing his seatbelt. A tragedy no parent or family should have to face. A tragedy that would have been avoided by simply driving smart.
Florida allows drivers to attend an approved course to eliminate points on their driving record or citation dismissal. Legislation now requires drivers involved in three crashes in three years to attend retraining, so we are taking a step in the right direction as Florida joins eight states that have mandatory driver re-education programs.
Considering the U.S. fatality rate (32,788 in 2010), hopefully more states will make required continuing driver education a part of their comprehensive effort to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.
Traffic Safety Professional Jay Anderson is the executive director of Stay Alive …. Just Drive!, Inc. and vice-chair of the Lee County Community Traffic Safety Team. www.sajd.org