How easy is it to get a driver’s license these days? In California, the Department of Motor Vehicles goes out of its way to be accommodating, offering materials in a variety of foreign tongues. Once they review the materials, the applicant takes a simple, multiple-choice exam, and after passing that small hurdle takes a very basic driving test where the most challenging portion might be parallel parking. And if a student is parking challenged, Ford’s new Active Park Assist system will even help do the job with electronics.
Despite all of California’s accommodations, the Golden State still considers driving a privilege, not a right of residence. So while licenses may be quickly given, at least by the apparent lack of driving skills on our roads and highways, the authorities are quick to rescind those same privileges. If you are a teen driver with just a trace of alcohol, your license is pulled until adulthood. And adults that are arrested for drunk driving, even without proof and before their day in court, must fight the DMV to temporarily regain their license.
California is not unique in its mix of easy licensing and tough DUI standards; other states have similar approaches. And it’s fair to say that all states have driver training and testing regimens that are far below European standards. The fact that our motoring death rates have receded in recent years has more to do with safety equipment in new cars than any improvement in driver skill or attention to the road.
In this light, it was disheartening to learn that the Michigan legislature is considering forcing driving students in that state to spend time learning “the importance of carpooling and transportation” along with “identifying the attributes of a fuel-efficient vehicle” and “recycling vehicle parts and fluids,” among other non-driving learning. Since we’re talking about mostly youthful learners, it’s more than likely that they’ll not only have a foundation in politically correct thought, but are already frequently lecturing their parents on ways to save our endangered planet.
That this would occur in Michigan, the state that popularized vehicular transportation, is somewhat surprising. On the other hand, Michigan is also the state that has managed to take the bad fortunes of the auto industry and create a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions through liberal governance.
Here’s an idea for Michigan legislators. Instead of filling the heads of new drivers with politically produced pabulum, why not toughen the standards to German levels? After all, both Michigan and Germany are home to automakers that produce vehicles with over 500-horsepower and 200-mpg capability, yet few stateside drivers are skilled enough to handle this machinery. And those who are have to worry about dodging potholes that politicians have skillfully avoided fixing.
Can you imagine how safe our roads would be if students were required to complete 45 hours of instruction and 12 hours of theory before taking a 75-question exam that’s tough enough that 30 percent of U.S. servicemen fail it the first time? The exam even includes important mechanical aspects of the modern automobile. Then there’s the practical test that comprises night driving in addition to high-speed Autobahn and in-town motoring skills.
Once licensed, German drivers get little slack for drunk driving. They also seldom pass a motorist on the right, they use fog lights for severe weather conditions, not a fashion statement, and they generally keep their hands on the wheel and minds on the road. In other words, driving in much of Europe is like flying an airplane over here — something to take seriously.
So if you have a young driver in the household, you can greatly increase his or her skill level without moving to Germany or relying on experience or fuzzy-headed training to be the only teacher. Most major urban areas with at least one racetrack will have a professional driving school that teaches the right set of skills that enable students to avoid accidents and drive safely at realistic limits. The cost runs as low as $549, far less than a German driving school, and no time is given to carpooling or the value of hybrid vehicles.