This past weekend, I had a conversation with my mother during a long drive. I was contending that vehicle safety isn't as important as proper driver training and safety. My premise was that if our society focused on preventing accidents, insurance costs would be lower, people would be safer, and vehicles would last longer. I see this as a boon to everyone (except for people selling cars and insurance).
In Germany, driver's ed isn't a 3 week course that you can coast through. It is almost a year long process that costs A LOT of money to complete. However, participants actually learn how to drive in many different situations, and since it is such a long process, they get a chance to learn to drive in all weather conditions. If you don't pass, you can't get your license, and you have to start allllllllll over again. Not to mention, pay again. This causes people to actually learn in driver's ed, rather than slack off in the back of a high school classroom while the gym or shop teacher sits up front, drinks his coffee, and talks to the athletes in the class.
But would this solve all of the problems we have? Not quite, but it would create a huge impact. My mother's main argument was “well, you can't control everyone else”. No, you can't. But if everyone goes through this intense driver training (not Driver's Ed, Driver's Training.), then the likelihood of someone else causing an accident is greatly lowered. Granted, there will always be stupid drivers, but with a more rigorous training and licensing program, we could help weed out poor drivers.
“But what about people driving without licenses?” Simple. No license- No car. How are you going to drive without a car? Borrow someone else's vehicle? Doubtful- Some auto makers are already doing this in very very limited quantities, but new security systems may incorporate finger or thumb print analysis instead of a key. New Drivers would have to be added at dealerships, and you could make it so that only licensed drivers could be added, and thus, only trained, and licensed drivers could drive your vehicle.
That brings up the issue of emergencies. This is a touchy area, and I usually hate it, but there could be an “emergency circuit”, or bypass where the driver could use his ID to start the vehicle, press a button, have the non-licensed driver use their ID, and then whatever mistakes are made will be on the licensed Driver. Kind of like a learner's permit.
This would be great, but there are some situations where you have no control, such as wildlife jumping in front of your vehicle. If you've ever seen a car hit a deer, you know that it's just as bad as hitting another vehicle. That's why I'm not saying safety devices are useless, just that they shouldn't be the main focus.
But what's wrong with making safety devices the main focus?
Well, it makes drivers feel invincible when driving, for one. “We've got 37 airbags in this baby- I can hit a flaming spike at the bottom of a 3 mile drop, and as long as I'm wearing my safety belt, I can get out and walk away” Granted, that's a hyperbole, but you get the point. The fact is, Supplemental Restraint Systems (SRS- Look at the airbags in your car) are just that- SUPPLIMENTAL- they can only do so much. Even with these, you aren't assured safe passage through many wrecks. People have been killed in SRS equipped cars, even in newer, multi airbag vehicles. Even while wearing their safety belts.
There are other factors that go into vehicle safety- suspension tuning, chassis rigidity (this can be both a good and bad thing, as too rigid of a chassis will fail to lengthen the time it takes the vehicle to decelerate in a wreck), Electronic Stability Programs, Traction Control Programs, etc, etc. Most of these focus on accident avoidance in one way or another, which is good. But the ones that don't (crumple zones, intrusion beams, etc) simply add to the false sense of security that many drivers have in their vehicles (ESPECIALLY GIANT SUV's).
The point is, we need more rigid driving laws. More specifically, WHO can drive. Many states only license their drivers once a decade- twice at best. I've seen drivers health, especially older drivers, take a turn for the worse in a matter of years, even months.
Face it- Driving is a privilege, not a right. This goes against EVERYTHING that I normally stand for, but there are certain instances where government regulation is pretty much necessary. States have failed to create safe drivers- In Kansas, you have to take a driving test ONCE in your entire life. And that test consists of literally driving around the block, and parking in a perpendicular parking space. No Highway, no curvy roads, no high speed driving. Not even a parallel parking test. You can pass the test by simply driving on the correct side of the road on some side streets, and obeying the speed limit.
In summation, safe driving is just as important, if not more important than safe vehicles. Please, learn to drive, and don't be stupid. You're not only putting yourself in danger, but you're putting everyone around you in danger.