Let’s try this one on for size: education is wasted on the careless. In this instance I am referring to those behind the wheel of a vehicle, and the education I am referring to is the type that is often championed by those concerned about the safety of our roads.
More specifically, when talking about education here, I am referring to things that one person can pass onto another. What I am not referring to here is personal experience. The “life lessons”. The informal, spontaneous lessons one learns in life. These are not merely theory (which is important), but lessons that have tangible impact on someone’s life and connect in a very real way to their actions. Don’t think passing a cyclist too close is a big deal? I mean, you didn’t hit them, right? And it wasn’t really that close anyway! It’s not until you ride a bike and have a large vehicle pass you too close and at a great rate of speed that your perspective changes. Sure, some people know this intuitively, but many don’t. This is what we need more of for those on our roads, but it is, of course, more difficult to deliver on a mass scale.
At any rate, I don’t think that this is (ever) the kind of “education” that is called on to make our roads more safe. So, to continue…
Firstly, let’s get the research out-of-the-way: The research that says that (more/better) driver education isn’t an effective measure for increased road safety. That should be obvious anyway. The cause for crashes is never, “I didn’t know how to respond to a stop sign or red light or how to interpret the speed limit sign”, so much as “I didn’t see him!” (wasn’t looking), or “the car just lost control” (not driving to the conditions or simply not paying attention), etc. Driving education can tell you what you should be doing, but you’ve met humans before, right? Have you had much success in controlling their behaviour at all times, especially when they have the freedom to do otherwise?
Let’s also get this out-of-the-way: the push for better driver education (something I’m in favour of, obviously) ahead of better design solutions and more stringent material enforcement in order to increase road safety has the appearance of being the opposite tactic as those used for improving cycling safety – at least in theory. Instead of taking tangible measures to create safer drivers, we opt for education. When it comes to cycling, the first line of defence when it comes to the safety of cyclists is to slap a helmet or high-viz on it, which is all the more frustrating because the very idea of a mandatory helmet law exists for no other reason than because cycling with people driving cars is dangerous – not because cycling itself is dangerous. In other words, cars are dangerous because they can so easily cause injury or death, whereas bikes are (can be) dangerous because their operation can leave one vulnerable to injury or death. The helmet is a result of this, not a solution, but one that is nevertheless put forth not only as the first line of defence, but in some cases, the only one (think about insurance claims).
Slow down there champ. I’m not entering into a debate about the effectiveness of helmets. I think that’s a waste of time. I’m referring to what mandatory helmet laws represent. The line of thought that created and sustains it (I have more to say on this topic, and will in another, possibly the next, post).
Ok, so what about this: we need driving to feel dangerous to the driver, not everyone else. We need driving to be an act that doesn’t leave the pilot care-free enough to attend to texts, fiddle with in-car-entertainment, or lose themselves in conversation with passengers or social media. We need the risk that drivers create all around them to be funnelled back into the psyche of the driver. Perhaps that means more elements built-in to the road network that slow speeds and increase attention (speed humps, narrower lanes, etc), or something inside the car that increases the sense of risk to the driver, or laws that curtail the incorporation of distracting elements inside the car altogether (limiting stereo volume or eliminating it altogether, mandating the use of a device that blocks all phone functions apart from emergency services, etc). That may well be impossible, of course, as it would put safety before dollars, but we can dream, right? I’m not going to suggest that we actually make driving more dangerous and costly for the driver (or am I?), but I bet it would be fairly effective in making the act of crashing into someone as costly as getting hit.
Does driving have to be dangerous though? I mean, as dangerous as it currently is? It depends on how much you want to design and regulate for safety. It’s not a matter of “can we”, but “will we?”. It’s policy. Is it worth it? Do we actually care enough? Do enough of us? Does speed and a high level of comfort, entertainment and luxury matter more than people’s lives?
Driverless cars are held up as a cure for our deadly roads. Again, think about that. The solution to dangerous roads is to remove the human element to it. Because we are irresponsible, and that makes us dangerous.
It reminds me of this ad:
Sure, measures taken to slow drivers down and keep them less distracted won’t magically put an end to the road toll any more than taking away people’s right to guns (which kill fewer people than cars – even in trigger-happy USA) will put an end to shootings. But it will drastically reduce them.
Australia holds it’s head up high when it comes to our gun laws. It’s not the least bit controversial here like it is in the US. But just as a significant portion of the US population holds guns (of all things) dear to their hearts, we hold the right to drive heavy machinery around on public roads with as much abandon as we want as one of our most basic rights and freedoms.
“But we accept and abide by the road regulations!”, I hear you say. You mean the ones that accept the deaths of thousands each year as just part of the cost of driving? You’ve all seen the reaction people have when someone tries to make a 60kph road a 50kph one, right?
“But I’m a good driver. Of course safety is important, but we don’t need a nanny state to tell us how to behave more than it already does!” People who complain about Nanny States are always curiously silent on the matter as soon as the tables are turned (think staunch free market Capitalists and their corporate bailouts). The rules that suit me are fine, but when they don’t…
I definitely have sympathy for the view-point that says, “if you don’t want to get a speeding ticket, then don’t speed”. How can you really argue with that? I don’t understand why speed-traps are so controversial. I don’t understand someone complaining about getting busted for doing something that absolutely everyone clearly knows they shouldn’t be doing.
But that’s just it. People don’t care. Not enough, anyway. We are as careless as we can afford to be, which is a lot. Our priorities are not where they should be (which is a subjective statement, I realise), but look around you. How’s the environment lately? How balanced is the economy? How comfortable would you be with letting your kids ride to school on their own? Do you think that with a bit more education people will check their well-nourished desire to take just a little bit more for themselves?
…we have shown as a collective, us drivers and riders of mechanically propelled vehicles, that we are incapable of carrying the burden and shrug continually the social responsibility of being good law abiding road users.
The above quote is from a very worth-while article written by very concerned (and surprisingly outspoken!) public officials who have the unenviable task of keeping us in line and cleaning up our messes.
Education is for everyone. Laws are for the unjust. Safety measures are for the careless. People who have obtained a driving licence have, I should hope, at least the minimum level of skill to pilot a potentially dangerous vehicle, but actually doing so is a choice – a matter of one’s personal priorities. We can lead all the horsies to water, but…
That’s my two cents anyway. Education is needed and needs to be the starting point. Once people have that, however, their choices, their priorities, need to be confronted and curtailed through the policy that shapes the laws we abide by and the roads we all move about on.
Header image: source