Sunday, 15 November 2015

Driver training and equipment

Learning to drive is an often important, in our car culture, essential, skill, and even if you don't intend to commute or do most of your transportation with cars as an adult, it is still a useful skill to know. Not everyone is capable of getting a driving license (including learners licenses), someone who is legally blind is an obvious example, but those who do should be well trained to handle situations on our roads.

I am learning to drive, and am becoming good at it. I still don't know everything, it takes years to get very good at it, so my dad and occasionally someone else, a couple of my uncles took me on a lesson before, still stay in the passenger seat, ready to make sure that if I am doing something incorrectly they can stop it before it becomes a habit, and give advice on things like how to make a complicated turn for example. This is normal.

A class 5/6 non probationary ( I am using Alberta's classification of licensing) license, which means that you are allowed to ride a moped with an engine size 50 cc or under (I am not a lawyer), an ordinary car, SUV, van for non commercial reasons, and you can pull a trailer while driving one of those vehicles, that is class 5, Class 6 can ride a motorcycles and mopeds.

If you want to get that license, or a class 1/2/3/4, then you should need to be required to get some training ready. Pass an approved first aid class (and all drivers and riders should be required to have a kit in their vehicle in an easily accessible place). This makes sure that if you do get in a collision with an injury, you know how to treat what wounds you can. Some things are intuitive, some are not. You've probably heard of the parable of the good Samaritan. Some ancient things are still worth thinking about. Helping those in need is one of them. If you see that there is a collision, if it is not already required, then you need to be obligated to give what help you can. Dial 911 if you have a phone, get out that first aid kit and use it, not so much that you risk yourself, like if the car is burning, but a fire extinguisher, another thing worth requiring to be had in motor vehicles, can put out that fire.

If the person wounded refuses, then you couldn't do that much about it. Medical ethics prevent treating someone who while culpable refuses treatment. If they are unconscious, a child, senseless or not able to understand what situation they are in, then a refusal is not clear, and sometimes not possible. Though I would note that if a child asks for treatment then the parents should not be allowed to deny it. It would be the other way around if the kid refuses treatment.

Other things that would be good to have in a car would be a spare tire, and of course the tools to install one. It would be rather useless to have a spare tire but not a wrench to tighten and loosen the bolts. Other basic tools, screwdrivers, pliers, duct tape even, jumper cables, and an instruction sheet on how to use them, shovel, swiss army knife (used correctly), flashlight, tow strap, and spare bulbs. Tools you can use if something goes wrong.

It is better to have them and not need them rather than to need them and not have them, one of the most repeated but important phrases. It would also be good to make sure you are certified to know how to use these things. Some things should be obvious, no extra training required, like screwdrivers or duct tape, even shovels, but some things need a bit of practice, jumper cables for example. And knowing what things are where in your car is good. Do not identify the battery as ground when using jumper cables, or confuse the air filter with the emergency food compartment. The latter is a bit of a joke, it doesn't take a genius to know that the air filter is not food. But seriously, the battery is not ground. Not really a tool, but folding warning triangles can really be useful. Imagine in the cold weather and your car breaks down. Even on the shoulder if the road has one, it can still be a considerable danger. Letting people know that a big object is stationary on the side of the high speed highway is vital to keeping people not rear ending the car. They are legal requirements in many countries. Alberta is not one of them (for cars at least as far as I know).

The province can set the legal standards for these sorts of objects, how reflective a triangle must be, how much pressure and volume and type of extinguishers are to be carries, what objects must be included with a first aid kit and the province could either require that these come with new cars, and can make an advertised list of what sorts of things meet these requirements and where to get them.

A lot of this training would even help ordinary life. Do you know how to use an extinguisher?  Given that so many people are licensed drivers, most people who are eligible for one go out and get one, it would make it so that you get training. First aid is also a winner. Figuring out how to use jumper cables wouldn't be that useful for ordinary life, except for if a car battery is dead, but other things that you can be trained on really helps. People could do basic repairs in their home, like fixing a lightbulb or tightening up screws.

Other things more related to how you drive would be requiring people to every 5 years after they get their full license to at their renewal of their license would be to attend a class on what is new (or about to be) on the roads, roundabouts, bike lanes and their signals, 30/40 km/h limits, other things and new laws, like distracted driving, and a basic retest of how good their abilities are. Making sure you still don't have a habit of cutting too closely, not going over a reasonably set speed limit, still knowing that you have to stop first, yield, then turn right at a red light unless signs forbid that. It should be a basic test, and people should see no hurdle with this, just a day every 5 years. 1 day (more like a couple hours) in 1826. You will get at least a couple notices in the mail, same as today when licenses expire. It might also update your mass and height, if you still need glasses if before you needed to wear them, using colour photo (why is my face in black, grey and white on my license?), etc.

Making sure that while still as possible for a person who knows what they are doing to get a license, not allowing someone who doesn't know what they are doing to get a license. One place to start would be the exams themselves. I got my learner license after filling out the paperwork like things like declaring that I need glasses to see but know other medical conditions would affect my driving, where I live, who I am, etc, and the proof of who I am and where I live, an actual eye test, and a written exam which was 30 questions and I could have gotten 20% of them wrong and still pass (I didn't, I got one minor question wrong and by the 27th question, the computer decided that I got 80%, which is the minimum). Why not have a test ride on a bicycle? You couldn't demonstrate things like speed limits. Bicycles do not have speedometers and trying to get to 51 km/h is not something you do on a bicycle without being very well trained and on a racing bicycle. But you could demonstrate things like lane positioning, stop signs and who goes first at them, and even roundabouts.

Other things to include would be a hazard perception test. Required for those who want to get a class 5/6 non probationary license. I found a video here from Australians which shows this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW7rscFePho. Simple idea, but worth having. You should take it at the registry office though (Alberta does not have DMVs. If you came here to do whatever you do, like renew a license, you would think that the government finally shrinked).

Other restrictions applying to drivers. Not having your hands holding a phone isn't the main distraction. It is paying attention to things that isn't related to driving. You will do equally badly at driving with a hands free device than a regular cell phone, or even the kind that has the phone built into the car. I also would like to see a ban on eating while driving, and requiring using a straw if you are drinking something, at speeds greater than 50 km/h. It makes sure that when you drive fast, you still pay attention. Pull over to eat or drink something else. Or on a freeway/expressway, on the next exit. Er, not the ramps, I mean the road the ramps lead to. Which is more important. A few minutes more for eating and drinking or driving? If you answered being distacted, then you need to go back to drivers ed.

Fines and punishment of law doesn't do that much to decrease the rate of traffic offenses. If you ticketed every single driver who speeds, like with auto enforcement cameras, then people probably would drive a bit slower. But things on the road do that better. Narrower lanes, brick paving, speed tables, and similar calming. Speed limits that make sense on roads where that is a safe thing to do. On freeways, 110 is rather slow. 140 is better in my opinion, 130 if I had to. Posted or electronic limits can reduce the speed if required. If you ticket people for illegal left turns but don't prevent people from making the left turn, like with a median in the way, and they still have a reason for wanting to turn left, then you will have a lot of traffic violations. But for the time when people are bad drivers and go too fast, go through a red light (or yellow light if it is safe to stop), double park, etc, then they should feel the force of law.

Our fines and demerits for rather serious offences are rather low. I mean, 3 points (you have a limit of 15) for running a red light. That is bad policy. You need at least 8 for that offense. Running a red is a very dangerous thing to do in a car. Driving 51 over the speed limit nets you only 6 points. That would be worth prosecution in the Netherlands and Europe. 30 over the limit means an automatic suspension. Here, we give 4 points. The idiot who runs at 80 km/h in a school zone gets 6 points? Going a few kilos over the limit is easy to do, but 80? Who could possibly not notice that? A few days ago someone drove at 120 in a school zone. That deserves prosecution. There is no way to justify yourself doing it. I also would for any traffic offense, downgrade their license to GDL for 2 months and require them to go and attend a safety class.

Some judges have gotten creative with their sentencing. Like the guy who insulted a police officer by declaring them pigs and being made to stand next to a real pig and hold a sign saying that it was not a police officer. I don't intend to go that far. But how about making something like community service suit the offense? Did you speed? OK, go to a location to help operate a radar gun connected to an electronic board. Maybe go to the morgue and visit corpses of victims of speed related traffic deaths. That would send a very clear message. Red light running? Help install new signs telling drivers about the danger of red light running. And implement the Finnish traffic fine system. In case you didn't know, fines in Finland are connected to the income of the offender. The more you make, the higher the fine. Makes sense. Give a millionaire instead of a $300 a 30 thousand dollar fine and that would make them pay attention. $300 is just an annoyance for uncle pennybags.

Given that the Liberal Government of Canada is planning to legalize marijuana for adults and regulate it in a similar way to alcohol, it would need to be clear about marijuana having a similar effect on your body as alcohol in how capable of driving a car. Make high driving as serious and publicized issue as drunk driving.

These methods should hopefully make drivers more likely to know what they need to know and give them good incentive to do it on the roads. This combined with physical design could save a life (or should that be postponing a death, maybe until someone's last rites on a bed in a house?), prevent injuries and collisions and prevent congestion that arises from collisions.

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