Friday, October 26, 2007

The new provisional car movement

The last 48 hours have seen an unprecedented level of political outrage pouring out in the main from folks under 30 in Ireland, why?

Because the government announced it was going to enforce the law fully with regard to those on provisional licenses and also change the anomaly with regard to those on 2nd provisional license. Not a bad idea one would think except the same government has spent years turning a blind eye to the underlying problem with Irish driving behaviour and who is responsible for driver behaviour, well I would guess that would be drivers. The odd thing is this should not be in any way a party political issue in that there is no aspect of ideology unless we allow for the purist of the pure libertarians who would reckon that all and any regulation is wrong.

Should these people be unaccompanied on the roads? Of course not, but when you ask why are they on the road, ah well that is a question that no one wagging their figures about the problem appears interested in addressing. Those with licenses will tell you it is because they are lazy or stupid. Most people do not pass the test the first time, yet all those with licenses appear to acquire a common degree of self satisfaction that they have passed the test. Passing the test does not mean you are a good driver, you are merely competent. The truth is that too large a number of those with full licenses are bad drivers and at the heart of what the RSA is proposing to do is to change things so that people will no longer pass the test and somehow still be bad drivers with bad habits. In effect they are abandoning all hope of reaching the existing full license community and that is just plain wrong.

Why is it so bad? Well, we've got a cultural problem obeying the law when we think it isn't sensible. The fact is that in Ireland we have a poor standard of driving across the board. It has been poor for decades and by and large nothing by anyone has been done about it. Let us look at some of the reality of a moment or two: there is a tranche of people (something like over 200,000) from the mid 80s who got full licenses because they had been on the waiting list for a test for so long that they were on a third provisional, so the solution was to give them all full licenses not as a temporary measure but for good. They've never passed a test but all have full licenses; that is almost half the number of people on provisional but we don’t hear any calls for them to be made pass the test. Why well most of them would be in their late 40s, and according to some the fact that they have been driving for years now means they must be reasonable good, which is the sort of logic that leads some to believe that because they have been on provisional licenses for years that they shouldn’t need to do a test. Throw in those from about twenty years prior to that who never had to do a test because they simply had to but the license and we’ve got a number nearly as large as the number of provisional licenses driving around unaccompanied never having passed the test.

Those on provisional licenses make up 25% of all those on the roads but account for much less than that in roads deaths. Of course this is because not all of the 420,000 are on the road at all. And why are there 420,000 people with provisional licenses? Again let us be sensible about that figure of 420,000 provisional licenses many of them are held by people who are not driving at all, it could 50,000 it could be 100,000, who knows not the RSA. These people may have got them so they could learn to drive but found they didn't have time or the finances to afford driving lessons so they do not use them, but once you get one the clock is ticking.

The test does not make you a better driver it simply states that on a given day that you were sufficiently competent. No one is magically a better driver the day after the test than they were the day before, the really sad fact is that most are never again as good a driver as they were that day. If the problem we are addressing is evidently with the vast bulk those involved in accidents namely full licenser holders then the idea might have been to retest them all when they renew their licenses. Of course we couldn’t do that because the testing system is clogged to choking already.

The fact is that the majority of fully licensed drivers in Ireland never took much in the way of formal lessons. Everyone acknowledges that the system is flawed and is consistently producing bad drivers but instead of dealing with the problem of poor driver behaviour the RSA has ignored doing something that might cost money like ensuring proper standards in the instruction and tester of drivers. Learning to drive should be a serious business and lessons should be comprehensive. Another aspect that we need to look at is our attitude to when in your life you learn to drive, we allow for people to start while still children so we suggest that driving is something a child can do when it should be obvious to us all that while control of a car might be straightforward enough for a child that the decision and risk assessment isn’t. And driving lessons aren't something you should be treating like some of us treat confession something you do every once in a while when your mother gets on your back about it. You can't take a 2 hour lesson and then another set of lessons 2 months later. Also one hour lessons are a waste of time especially in built up places like Dublin as you spend 15 minutes driving the previous person home and the 15 minutes driving to the next person's place, not much time to get to one of the areas that schools use as practices areas (and why have we never thought to allocate some land to driving ranges in the sense of places that people learn the basics of moving a car about off the road system). The state has a view of who is learning to drive which appears to suggest they think the typical learner driver is on working and living at home with their parents with access to a car for lessons and a support network of friends and relations who can help out, the reality is probably more likely that the typical learner is just after starting work, living away from home and with friends living spread all over the city and not in a position to assist in the learning process. Throw in a 3 hour commute per day on public transport and I’m not clear where they will find the time to take lessons with sufficient frequency to get the confidence to drive.

The aims of the RSA report are laudable and we should be intending to achieve them, but you don't start by demanding that people take lessons without first making sure that lessons of a sufficiently quality are available. You don't demand that people take a test that isn't available to them or the quality of which is questionable. Surely it is part of the remit of the RSA to find out why we have such problems what the consequence are and how do we deal with the problems in order alleviate the problems.

And how is it that we can't cope with the numbers of people looking to take the test after all it is a roughly predictable number. Taking a rough figure from the leaving cert we probably have somewhere in the region of 70,000 people coming onto the driving scene each year. A test takes about 45 minutes which means each tester can get through 10 or so tests per day on average so 50 per week that means 20 testers would do a thousand per week, which is 52,000 and we have far more than 20 in the country. So why does the backlog exist? Because the state wasn’t bothered enough to tackle those involved in the testing process and then gave the same type of nod and wink to those on provisional licenses as Dempsey did yesterday that it wouldn’t matter if they drove. And some people think he is taking a lead on the issue?


Bock the Robber said...

As you say, Dan, the test simply states that on a given day that you were sufficiently competent. However, that's true of most tests.

At least those who passed can claim they were a tiny bit competent at some stage -- even it was only for one hour. A lot of people can't even claim that much.

Unknown said...

I don't disagree Bock. The sad fact is the system is flawed and there are laudable ideas in the proposals from the RSA but the implementation is very poor. There is still not certification for instructors, no transparent assessment of the testers and if you take the test and fail you could spend 7/9 months not driving or else shelling out 80 per week for lessons until the next test date - anything less than 4 hours practice per week is not going to help you keep the skills you had acquired up and to allow you to improve. The vast majority of those with full licenses in Ireland learned while driving alone on their provisionals, that does not mean this should continue it does mean that they are being dishonest when they support claims that this crackdown is about road safety, if it were we would have seen a proposal for reseating the test every ten years. People are not better drivers the day after taking the test than they were the day before, and the sad fact is that many of people are never as good again as they were the day they took.

I think the weird thing is that we all know the existing situation is wrong (but magically no one is responsible for us getting here) and by in large most people are agreed on the situation where we would wish to be, so this is purely a discussion about how we get there. Now what is instructive about the attitude of a lot of people is that the route to go is one of banning, yet isn’t that the policy for the most part at present and that does not appear to have worked very well at all has it?

Anonymous said...

In most developed countries the system works like this:

1) The aspiring motorist has to take compulsory driving lessons from a qualified driving instructor.

2) The aspiring motorist has to pass a test (both theoretical and practical)

3) After passing the test the motorist receives a driving license and can now drive unaccompanied.

Not so in Ireland. Where else but here can unqualified drivers get behind the wheel (alone!!!) and drive on public roads before passing any kind of test???

One has to laugh in order not to cry at the insanity.

Unknown said...

In Ireland of course

1) The aspiring motorist has to take compulsory driving lessons from a qualified driving instructor

DKS - we don't require any qualification from someone who is a driving instructor other than that they can drive.

2) The aspiring motorist has to pass a test (both theoretical and practical)

DKS - Again a sensible approach but one that most of those who are instructing learners drivers have not been through and yet we wonder at the poor standard of instruction.

3) After passing the test the motorist receives a driving license and can now drive unaccompanied.

DKS - And they will have been more rigorously and consistently assessed unlike our hit and miss test process.