Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Jim Bray

National Teen Driver Safety Week focused on at least one wrong issue

By Jim Bray
October 28, 2020

It appears that, these days, there's a week, or a month, or a day, for just about any cause one can imagine. And last week, October 18 to 24 was apparently named National Teen Driver Safety Week, at least judging by the press releases I've received on the topic.

These releases offer a variety of tips for teenagers as they get behind the wheel of their vehicle, things such as remembering to mute your phone (in fact, in one release I got they say you should put it into Airplane Mode!), planning your route in advance, keeping both hands on the steering wheel, etc.

One organization, in their press release, even called upon the young drivers' passengers to rat 'em out: "Speak Up: As a passenger, help by speaking up if your driver decides to interact with a mobile device. Feel confident to ask them to stop immediately, and demand that they pull over and then use their phone safely."

Advocating back seat drivers? Really? Where do these people get off? I tell you, if it were me driving and my passenger pulled that, I'd pull something, too: I'd indeed pull my vehicle right over to the shoulder (when it's safe to do so, of course) and then that prattler in the passenger position would be on foot.  Don't like my driving? Find someone else to chauffeur you around!

Of course, it's been a loooong time since I was a teenager and I display my well-earned curmudgeonly tendencies proudly.  

To be fair, some of the advice given above is reasonable enough but, as usual, the powers that are pushing this agenda appear to be aiming a good portion of their fire at the usual canard: speeders.

"Teens need to know that #SpeedIsNoGame," says Pamela Fuselli, President and CEO of Parachute, in a press release. "Drivers who speed are at higher risk for crashes and more severe injuries, and pedestrians struck by a driver at higher speeds are less likely to survive."  Parachute, in case you've never heard of them (I certainly hadn't) proclaims itself as Canada's national charity dedicated to reducing the devastating impact of preventable injuries.  

It's always about speeding, isn't it? Funny, you'd think the authorities would love speeding, because they can be found just about any day sitting on the side of the road with their zap guns and the money collected goes right to the government. It's like smokers. I don't know how much cigarettes sell for today, but a huge proportion, if not most, of cancer sticks' cost has traditionally been taxes.

Isn't it more than a tad hypocritical? I mean, how much extra money do smokers put into governments' pockets, which could go directly to our socialist health care system if they weren't busy peeing it away to buy votes in Quebec. Yet smokers are pilloried and shunned and lectured to – almost in an Orwellian "two minutes of hate" way.  

Imagine, though, how much more the rest of us would have to pay in taxes if it weren't for smokers? And boozers. And speeders (and don't get me started on the photo radar cash grab!).

But I digress. My issue is that speed isn't necessarily the problem. Stupidity is. Or a lack of driving skills, or a lack of care and attention.

Today's cars (and of course I include trucks, SUV's et al here) are designed and built the best they have ever been. They have airbags up the wazoo, stability and traction control, braking aids, "smart" cruise control, the best tires and lighting ever, etc. They're also, depending of course on the vehicle, capable of being driven safely at speeds far above the ridiculously low limits imposed by our betters.

Heck, my 16-year-old sport wagon is perfectly comfortable cruising along at about 140 km/h, its V6 ticking over at only around 3,000 rpm in sixth gear – not even breaking a sweat. And I feel perfectly comfortable driving it at those speeds because the car is designed for it and I've been trained to do it.

I started thinking about this topic again while reading the late Brock Yates' Cannonball, his history of the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, a series of brazen (and probably fun!) races from the east to the west coast of the United States. These were wonderful collective thumbings of the noses at the authorities, run in the 1970's, and saw contestants vie to make the nationwide trip in the shortest time possible.

This meant there was a certain amount of speed limit ignoring. Yet over the five runnings of the race, no one in the general public was harmed (most didn't even know the Cannonball was going on). Some vehicles may have blown up or otherwise self-destructed or been destroyed, but nearly all the drivers and their vehicles got to the checkered flag in California safely. Some contestants were a tad poorer by then, because any speeding tickets earned (and you can bet they were earned!) were the responsibility of the driver. But, according to Yates' telling of it, they had smiles from ear to ear!

The Cannonballs showed that a good vehicle, driven by a skilled driver, could cross the USA safely and bother no one except, apparently, law enforcement and the ranks of the perpetually outraged.

So, can a teenager drive quickly, safely? Ask Colton Herta. He won his first IndyCar race last year while still a teenager. And he lived! And so did everyone around him!

I've advocated for years that new drivers be required to take – at their own expense – an accredited advanced driving course before they're unleashed onto an unsuspecting public. I've participated in many such courses over the past 20 years and wish I'd had them when I was a teen driver.

Back then, we had Driver Ed (or whatever his name was…) but the course was pretty much teaching us how to pass the test. I suspect that's still the case – and it may be worse now, considering how the rest of society has been dumbed down. Fortunately, I had an instructor who cared enough about us learning to drive safely that he taught us skid control on snowy parking lots, thereby imparting knowledge about vehicle handling that I've carried with me to this day and passed on to my kids.

An advanced driving course not only teaches you proper techniques and methodologies (ones that you can and will use every day you drive), they can also make you a more confident driver who's more aware of his/her/its vehicle and its capabilities, as well as the conditions in which you're driving.

They're also a heckuva lot of fun!

So what if it costs you a couple of grand? It's worth it – and maybe the government could let you write the cost off your taxes like they do with some other educational stuff?

As for speeding killing pedestrians deader'n they'd be if you weren't speeding, I daresay a pedestrian hit by a two-tonne car going 50 klicks will probably be just as dead as one hit by one going 120. The only advantage I can see if that the victim of the slower vehicle may be easier to identify.

And what about the pedestrians' responsibility? Don't parents teach their kids to look both ways before crossing any more? Why is it the driver's fault when the pedestrian is plugged into ear buds and looking down at his/her/its smart phone screen?  

I got hit by a car when I was a kid (explains a lot, doesn't it?) and it was completely my fault: I didn't look. I've looked both ways ever since, and I haven't been hit again. Funny how that works.

But speed limits are the law! True, but since when is it impossible for the law not to be an ass? There was a time when black folks couldn't hang out with white folks, thanks to asinine laws. Should they still be in effect?

I'm not advocating speed limits of 120 in residential areas. That would be stupid. But on highways and higher speed divided roads, the limits could be much more accommodating than they are.

I believe that if we raised driving standards, including how driving courses are delivered, we'd go a long way toward making our roads safer, and it wouldn't have to cost the government a dime (well, it wouldn't hurt if they'd maintain the roads in good condition…).

And maybe then the radar cops can come off the roadside and go after idiot drivers (no signals, no lights, no brains, etc.) rather than sitting there shooting fish in a barrel. Sure, if there's a speeding driver who's also driving like an idiot pull him/her/it over, but leave the competent ones alone.

Maybe we could spare some of the radar cops for more mundane duties, such as chasing robbers, murderers and the like.

Or is this stuff really all about money and/or control?

Copyright 2020 Jim Bray
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