If we develop and fund serious driver programs that individually coach and train motorists to become better drivers, the impact will be immediate.
Modern cars bristle with safety technology. I can’t seem to drive anywhere these days without the car beeping, blinking, chirping, ringing or vibrating as it nags me to stay in my lane and mind my p’s and q’s. And yet, all this safety technology only is having a marginal impact on reducing traffic accidents. I think we’re taking the wrong approach.
As cars become ever more sophisticated, the industry is spending a lot of time and effort on training how to sell and service these vehicles. Salespeople at dealerships are taught how connectivity works so they can explain it to customers. Service techs are learning new body-shop techniques as car bodies are made from new materials. The industry is constantly training and retraining personnel as more and more new technology is incorporated in cars.
And yet, little is being done to train motorists how to become better drivers. There’s a big disconnect here.
All the safety data show more than 90% of all traffic accidents are caused by human error. Some say it’s more like 95%. And yet we’re not doing anything to reduce human error by training people how to become better drivers. All we do is add another ring-a-ding-ding warning system. That’s not enough.
As I’ve written in this space before, our driver-education system is sorely inadequate. Most driver’s-ed grads have never driven at night, or in the snow or in rush-hour traffic. They’ve never hit the brakes hard enough to trigger the antilock brakes, cornered hard enough to trigger the electronic-stability-control system or hit the gas pedal hard enough to trigger the traction control. When they do any of these things for the first time, it usually scares the hell out of them.
And you know what they do then? They freeze. They don’t brake hard enough, accelerate out of the way or steer around the obstacle. And so they crash, despite all the safety systems that are chirping and chiming away.
Our society invests a lot in rules and regulations regarding the automobile. We have multiple government agencies, staffed with thousands of bright people, whose sole job is to make cars safer. But when it comes to teaching and training citizens how to safely master these machines, we invest the most meager of resources.
If we develop and fund serious driver programs that individually coach and train motorists to become better drivers, the impact will be immediate. I’m willing to bet it would save more lives than anything the regulators and safety advocates are proposing.
What’s it going to take to seriously reduce the millions of traffic injuries and tens of thousands of fatalities that afflict us every year? I keep looking at that 90% driver-error statistic and know that regulations and technology, alone, are not going to get us there.
John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of the “Autoline” PBS television show and “Autoline Daily,” the online video newscast.