Is it any wonder why the US is always looked down upon by Europe when it comes to cars and driving prowess? Oh, it is? Well, let me elaborate. The US, in the eyes of Europeans, especially the British, is a virtual automotive hellhole. Everything from car brands to overall driving ability is scrutinized and berated. They say we cannot drive unless it is in a straight line, that the majority of our cars have a detached feeling when one is driving them, and that our racing drivers, NASCAR specifically, can only go fast turning left. And you know what? They are correct in every single assumption.
If 100 people from any state were selected at random, I firmly believe more than half would fail either the driving or written portion of the same driving test we all take when we get our first license. When I am on the road, I cannot fathom how most people were given the freedom to get behind the wheel of a car without supervision of some kind. Every day these people are unleashed on unsuspecting motorists like myself who can actually drive properly. There is a grievous misuse of transportation happening on the roads of America.
Driving involves so much more than just pointing and pressing the pedal on the right. Driving should be an experience each and every time you get into a car. It should not just be a way to get around. This is the first problem with the American driving mentality. “Driving is a chore,” they would answer. “The only reason I have a car is so I can get to work and the grocery store.” I believe most people would say driving is just a means to an end. A way to get from point-A to point-B and nothing more. What a sad existence. Driving is not just a bother or a means to get someplace quicker; it is a glorious gift from a combination of science, technology, and ingenuity.
This leads me to my original point. The mentality of the average driver today needs to change, drastically. Drivers are more distracted and less prepared to take to the streets now more than ever. Gone are the days where it was just a person, a wheel, and the road. Now we have cell phones, heads-up-displays, satellite navigation, and technology packages that would make the original Apollo Lander look like something from a hobby shop. Yet, I don’t think this is the problem. In fact, when I purchase a new car in the next few months, a good tech package is going to be one of the main selling points. I’m a huge fan of car advancement and a proponent of a smarter overall car. Yet, because of all these new advancements, we no longer give 100% attention to the task at hand. This is just fuel to the detached-driving fire. Technology, however, is only part of the problem.
People, as I mentioned, just want to get from here to there, as fast as they can, so they can have more instant gratification. This is the new normal and breeds the worst driver humanly possible. No one knows how to drive. They just know how to point and go. But what I don’t understand is how driving a car is not instant gratification. You are traveling at great speeds towards a destination of your own choosing with other cars and obstacles in the way. These obstacles have unknown variables guiding them down a roadway that is constantly changing and undulating with the weather, earth’s movement, and repair work. What could possibly be more exciting than that? If we all just pay attention to the road more and enjoy cars for what they truly are, we can have a fun, pleasurable experience no matter what car we drive or where we are going. And this should be reflected in our driving tests. From what I understand, the standard driving test has not changed much in the last 30+ years. We’re still being taught to drive as if we all still cruise in an ’83 Toyota Tercel. Cars today are faster, more agile, and more equipped to disconnect you from the driving experience. Let’s change the test to reflect this massive gap in automotive acumen. And while we’re at it, let’s test everyone, on his or her car, every year. That’s a giant pain in the ass you say? Just so you know, in Finland, you must take your drivers test with 18 hours of instructed driving, how to control your car on a skid-pad in tumultuous conditions, and take 19 driving theory lessons. Once that is complete, the new driver must then take a written exam based on the aforementioned theory classes and pass a 30-minute drive in city traffic conditions. Now THAT’S a driving test. I think my driving test lasted 5 minutes, involved no real-time traffic, no weather, and the driving class I took was a gym teacher telling us the rules of the road instead of playing dodge ball. What a joke. (Editor’s Note: All of us here at Shifting Lanes preferred dodgeball)
I propose an annual driving test comprised of a written test, driving no less than 10-15 minutes, and 30 minutes on a real race-course. Why the race-course? Simple. Because not only would this be supremely fun, it would give people the chance to go fast and really know how to navigate turns at high speeds. Everyone would have a great time and become even more familiar with their cars. It’ll teach everyone to be safer, have an increased sense of road knowledge, and enjoy something they do every day. How is this not a fantastic idea?
We’ve all heard the old saying, “Getting there is half the fun.” I say, make it all the fun. Who’s with me?