By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
For years I have been arguing that the most objective — and perhaps, definitive — measure of a driver’s ability to drive safely is whether he or she has been involved in an at-fault accident.
Speeding tickets, for example, don’t really tell us whether a person is a safe/competent driver. They just tell us that person was caught driving faster than a number posted on a sign — which may be illegal, but by no means necessarily unsafe.
For example, it’s today perfectly legal to drive 65 or 70 mph on most highways. But during the “Drive 55” era, such speeds were illegal. Did it suddenly become safe to drive at 65 or 70 on those same roads? Of course not. The law changed, that’s all.
Also: Skill varies. Some drivers are perfectly able to handle a car at 80 or 90 mph as well or better than some drivers can handle the same car at 60 mph. But the system considers the former as an “unsafe driver” simply by dint of his faster driving.
The point being, faster drivers aren’t necessarily unsafe drivers.
Insurance industry stats bear this out, incidentally. Faster drivers actually tend to have fewer accidents than slow-pokes. Also, while it’s true that driving faster can increase the amount of damage/severity of injury if there’s a crash, it does not follow that the risk of having a crash increases simply because “x” is traveling faster than “y.”
Unfortunately, our dumbed down speed limits force everyone to drive at the level of the least competent. We also do nothing meaningful to deal with those marginal/iffy drivers. They can have multiple at-fault accidents — and their license will be in less peril than the driver who has never had an at-fault accident but who has a couple “reckless driving” tickets — which in many states are issued as a matter of course for merely driving faster than 20 mph over the posted limit. (During the “Drive 55” era, one could get a “reckless driving” cite for doing 76 mph on the freeway. Today the exact same speed is either legal — or a minor ticket.)
Rather than fixate on all these “technical fouls” such as driving faster than a number posted on a sign, why not focus on those drivers who have actually given definitive proof their judgment or skill (or both) is lacking? Driving 80-something mph in a modern car on a modern Interstate highway is only “reckless” in the BS language of the insurance cartels and state/local authorities who make money on this scam.
However, if a driver blows through a red light and strikes another vehicle that had the right of way, that is incontrovertible evidence of “reckless driving.”
Yet our system focus to an overbearing extent on statutory “speeding” enforcement, with driving faster than a number on a sign the main thing the safety lobby drones on about endlessly about — and the primary offense traffic cops spend their time dealing with.
Objectively dangerous conduct behind the wheel — the driver who wanders across the double yellow while gabbling away on her cell; the guy riding inches off the bumper of the car ahead of him — is routinely ignored by traffic cops.
Until it causes an accident.
And even then, the consequences are generally less serious than they would be if the driver had been nabbed for doing 80-something — even if no metal was crunched and no one was hurt. A minor ticket might be issued as a result of one car plowing into the rear end of another that was stopped at a light. It is by no means certain. But have the misfortune to drive by a radar trap and it’s a sure bet you’ll be going home with a piece of payin’ paper in your pocket.
Are the roads any safer as a result? Or have the coffers of the state just gotten a little fatter?
The sensible alternative ought to be this:
Whenever a driver is involved in an at-fault accident, he should be issued a ticket for unsafe driving (specifics to be defined based on the particulars of each case) and required to undergo a DMV evaluation that includes a re-test of basic skills and knowledge. And that means real test — not the sad little pro forma drill they do in most states today. In other words, a test that is actually possible to fail — and which requires the person to demonstrate higher than Forrest Gumpian levels of knowledge and skill. An actual road test on actual roads should be part of the deal, too — along with a physical check-up of vision and so on.
I’m not talking race car driver skill levels — or insisting upon visual acuity good enough to make it as an airline pilot. But enough skill — and good enough vision — to be a competent driver and less of a risk to others out there, as well as oneself.
We need to weed out the barely marginal (and sub-marginal) drivers out there; often, these are people who never speed — and so fly under the radar.
Until they cause an accident, of course. At that point, red flags should be hoisted.
If a driver who has already been involved in one at-fault accident has another at-fault accident within a 5 year period, their driving privileges should be suspended until they have taken and passed (at their expense) a comprehensive driver training course that intensively focuses on basic skills/competence.
If they cannot pass, they cannot drive.
A third at fault accident in any five year period should result in permanent revocation of driving privileges for at least five years.
Some people should just take the bus.
But it’ll never happen because of the money and power derived from the current system — and because this country is afflicted with an entitlement mentality and poisoned by the notion that everyone’s “equal.”
Which of course, they’re not.