Something I keep harping about in this blog is that it is too easy to get a driver’s license, and too hard to lose it, exactly the opposite of how it should be. Something that keeps coming up in private communication is exactly how hard do I think it should be to get a driver’s license?
This is what I think the US standard should be for getting a driver’s license: At 16 you get a learner’s permit. If you get caught driving without an adult over 21 in the passenger seat while you have that learner’s permit, or get in a wreck, or get a ticket, you don’t get to drive until you’re 21. You drive daytime only with one adult over 21 and no other passengers until you turn 18. When you turn 18 and if you have been driving with a learner’s permit, you can take another road test and get a short probationary driver’s license, which means that if you don’t get in any wrecks or get any tickets for 6 months, then you can get a “permanent” license. If you get in a wreck, you wait until 21 or 2 years whichever is longer to get a license. You get a ticket you wait a full year until you apply again for a probationary license. If you’re over 21 when you apply for a license the first time you can get the short probationary license like 18 with 2 years learner’s permit. For those over 18 but under 21 without the 2 years of learner’s permit driving after passing the written and road tests you get a “long” probationary license, with the same restrictions as the short probationary except instead of 6 months of driving like your first mistake will end your life it is a 12 month period. Notice that for the probationary licenses the first ticket takes you back to the 18-21 stage without the learner’s permit, that is a full year of the probationary license after waiting a full year from the ticket and paying the test fees and taking the tests all over again.
If you paid attention you probably noticed that for the first several years of the process until the driver turns 21 the first ticket or wreck restarts the whole process after an extended period of not driving. That means any moving violation, even “rolling” a stop sign, causes you to lose your license. Also pay attention to the point that getting back into the license process takes you to an even more precarious process that has you under probation for a full year. This is true for any reason to lose your license that still allows you to get one back, you are back at the beginning and have to take all the tests and also pay all the fees to take those tests, and after passing all the tests you have a full year of probation.
Also the written test covers all the laws of driving including how to interact with pedestrians and people riding bicycles. You should have learned the laws for riding a bike and walking while you are in elementary school so testing for that knowledge would be redundant. I can’t see requiring testing for the number of the paragraph for each law, but knowing the gist of every law and the meaning of it would be required. I see a minimum of 80% correct to pass except for the bits about being around cyclists and pedestrians where if you miss anything you failed the test.
Now the road test should be in 2 parts, the second part on an actual road where the examiner watches for anything that could result in someone getting injured if another person is there, in other words for the purposes of the road portion of the test assume there are pedestrians and cyclists EVERYWHERE! which if this license scheme works out would be the way things are because drivers would be terrified of losing their licenses so that non-motorized road users would feel safe enough to actually use the roads. The first part of the test would be on a closed course, where the candidate would have to demonstrate accident avoidance, ability to detect and get out of a skid on a wet skid pad, and knowledge of the proper line through a corner, including braking zone, apex, and exit. This becomes important when traction goes away in wet or freezing conditions.
As you might imagine driving schools would be like technical schools, with long classroom sessions and test tracks that were literal test tracks for teaching the accident avoidance test and the cornering tests. Classroom sessions would be about both the laws that would be covered by the written test and the theory of driving needed to pass the practical tests (you couldn’t really call them “road” tests as more than half would be on the track). The comic stereotype of the “Driver’s Ed” teacher would become a thing of the past as most of the early training that teaches new drivers how the controls of the car work would be on the track in a closed environment long before the driver ever gets to real streets and roads.
You might have noticed that even in the description of how to get a driver’s license in this new cyclist’s paradise most of the description is how to lose that license, temporarily. That’s because of the second half of the equation, losing the license would happen at the drop of a hat. When you’re not established as being worthy of having a license, anything that cast a negative light on your driving abilities like a moving violation or a wreck would force a re-set back to square two, the one after you finish the driving school. In addition if there was too high a percentage of driver candidates that had to re-set a driving school could lose their certification and either have to replace instructors or sell to different owners and re-do the entire curriculum.
Once you establish that you have earned the privilege of controlling a weapon of mass destruction you have a little leeway, a single ticket would not cause you to lose that license. However, that first ticket puts you in a somewhat precarious position. Under my rules in the cyclist’s paradise if you get 3 moving violations in a year you lose your license for a year, subject to passing the tests again (and paying the fees to take those tests). Having a wreck not involving a cyclist or pedestrian also loses your license for a year and requires taking the tests again.
Now if you have a wreck that involves a cyclist or pedestrian and you’re not at fault it’s treated as a “normal” wreck with another vehicle and you just lose your license for a year. If you are at fault when you hit a cyclist or pedestrian well your world just went pear-shaped. You will lose your license for at least 2 years for “minor” wrecks where you only had a technical violation and the victim is only injured, For “major” violations where it takes either a deliberate action on the driver’s part to commit the violation or a wreck where the victim does not survive the driver loses that license for 5 years. For a combination of a “major” violation combined with a fatality of the cyclist or pedestrian you can kiss your license good-bye forever, after you get out of prison. For any wreck that involves a cyclist or pedestrian the process to recover the license also involves going back to driving school, partially because after that time your driving skills would be very rusty, and partially because your knowledge of the laws is demonstrated to be lacking and needing re-education. In addition after a wreck involving a fatality the driver is on permanent probation, meaning the first ticket is another year walking or riding a bike.
As you can imagine non-motorized road users would feel quite safe in this environment. Drivers, not so much. To go with this legal environment would be an infrastructure that was equally as protective of cyclists and pedestrians, so that drivers would have very little opportunity to use that knowledge of how cars and cyclists interact. In my mind, this would be truly a paradise to the non-motorized road user.