I realize that rants about bad drivers run second only to rants about technology in the pantheon of prosaic blog topics, but that isn’t going to stop me. As I was out driving the other night, I was struck (figuratively, not literally) by the sight of a big BMW in front of me. As I came up behind it, the driver was first driving slowly, then weaving left without a signal about halfway into my lane, and then – again without a signal – crossed two lanes of traffic to turn right.
My only thought was, who the heck taught this person to drive?
Admittedly, working from home means that I drive fairly infrequently. So when I do, I really notice bizarre behavior. I have to say, though, that California, for all the horror stories, is not the worst I’ve ever encountered. The drivers here are just rude. Other places, they’re downright unsafe. The one time I drove in downstate New York, for instance, I was astonished to learn that drivers there consider the lines painted on the road simply as décor; if it’s asphalt, it’s fair game to drive on.
Being childless, I had only a passing sense that schools had axed driver education and driver training courses years ago. An article in USA Today last year confirmed the damage: it quoted the CEO of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, Allen Robinson, estimating that “about 15% of eligible students take high school driver’s ed compared with 95% in the 1970s.”
When I asked my FWTs (friends with teenagers), I learned that most of them pay several hundred dollars a shot to private companies for their kids’ driver training. But that left me wondering what people who don’t want to spend that kind of money do. I realized those people probably teach their kids themselves.
This conjures a scary prospect: a generation of people who weren’t taught to drive properly in the first place is now teaching the next generation.
As for me, I was so nervous about learning how to drive that my driver’s education and driver’s training courses are among my most vivid high school memories. My driver’s ed teacher was a no-nonsense Japanese man named Peter Ida, whose syllabus included all the traditional 16mm films of gore and morons (see graphic). But there was one particular film that Mr. Ida advised us to partially ignore. It was filmed in a convertible with the camera positioned behind the right shoulder of a driver’s ed teacher (using the term loosely), who talked almost non-stop. The first problem was that he simply could not refrain from honking the horn to alert other drivers to his presence. Mr. Ida moaned, “If everyone honked as much as this guy, the roads would be deafening.” He also pointed out to us a moment in the film when a pedestrian is waiting at a crosswalk and the guy sails through the intersection without slowing down.
One of the physical education coaches, Steve Truesdell, was my driver’s training teacher in the summer of 1971. I still hear Mr. Truesdell’s words in my head today about checking my mirror, turning my head, and maintaining car lengths (though the last one I usually ignore). He was a man of infinite patience, and the world is a less-safe place now that he’s no longer in the right-hand seat.
My late mother (from whom I inherited the cranky gene) always used to say, “The way people drive, I’m amazed there aren’t more accidents.” I second that, but it also tests my contention that the elimination of driver’s ed in the public schools is causing the problem.
More likely, it’s the continued widespread dissemination of idiots and maniacs.