You’re Not That Good

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Rants

A recent study shows that no, you are not a good driver.

A new survey from insurance company Allstate reveals that the majority of drivers overestimate their skills behind the wheel.
The survey of 1000 American adults found that 64 percent think they are “good” or “excellent” drivers. Tellingly, only 29 percent were willing to give the same praise to their friends. And residents of neighboring states were also slated, with 53 percent of respondents saying out-of-state drivers are “average” or “poor” behind the wheel.

Survey respondents almost universally agreed that teens and senior citizens are poor drivers. Sorry, grandma. That also may explain why so many voters want stricter rules regulating teenage drivers.

Even though drivers tend to overestimate their own abilities and look down on those around them, Allstate found that most drivers admit to poor driving practices. Eighty-nine percent of drivers say they exceed the posted speed limit, 34 percent have sent an email or text message while behind the wheel, 45 percent admit to driving while “excessively” tired, and 15 percent of drivers confess that they’ve driven while intoxicated. We’d strongly advise against any of those behaviors.

And as for car crashes? Though 56 percent of survey respondents had been involved in an accident, just 28 percent said the incident was their fault.

See what I mean?  I’m constantly calling for stricter laws, stricter driver licensing requirements, and stricter continuing driver education.

For starters, overconfidence is a huge issue.  Today, we have machines that literally drive themselves.  We have ABS that pumps the brakes for us and gives us a false sense of braking confidence (newsflash – ABS increases braking distance, it doesn’t decrease them – that’s why racecars don’t run ABS – also, your tires are far more important than brakes for stopping), decreasing the skill needed for modulating the brakes.  We have traction control systems which cut power to wheels when they’re spinning, decreasing the skill needed for modulating the throttle.  We have stability control systems which apply brakes to individual wheels to keep the vehicle travelling in the direction the driver is pointing the steering wheel, decreasing sensitivity to vehicle inputs and actual driving skill.  We exacerbate this even worse with highly advanced all wheel drive systems which torque vector to further keep the vehicle going the way it is, while relying upon less skill from the driver.  We have sensors that automatically brake when they sense an imminent crash.  We have lane departure warning systems.  We have radar based systems which automatically maintain cruise control speed and distance for us.  We are a bunch of lazy, shitty drivers.

On top of that, modern safety equipment such as airbags and intelligently built vehicles give us a false sense of security that even if we yarrr our car into a tree, we’ll survive the crash since the cars are so safe.  Compound that with the myth that drivers larger vehicles are more likely to survive a crash (hint – they’re not) and our roads are covered with excessively, unnecessarily huge vehicles lumbering around, piloted by individuals more concerned with checking their sports scores on their smart phone or applying makeup than not killing the person in front of them in the Miata, who they can’t see since they’re so high up.

We need stricter laws and graduated licensing for young drivers.  Young drivers are dangerous.  Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-20.  The adult brain is not mature until it reaches age 25.  In fact, lack of maturity in the teenage brain is one of the reasons for so many accidents in that age group.  It is essential that younger drivers be taught responsibility in steps, rather than unleashing any 16 year old who masters the hand-eye coordination of parallel parking (in fact many states don’t even test on parallel parking) and can make a left hand turn into oncoming traffic.  There is no requirement to pass a test in a manual transmission, there is no significant expense associated with testing and failing, and the standards for passing are woefully low.  Instead, we should look to the European system which has a thorough and comprehensive path designed to put mature, experienced drivers on the roads.  This has resulted in countries with far higher speed limits having much safer traffic statistics.

We need stricter laws limiting older drivers.  Older adults are not safe.  It is a fact that older drivers are more dangerous.  Although, oddly enough, grandparents may be safer drivers than a child’s own parents.  And our population is only aging – its going to get worse.  The key is in periodic testing.  Generally, once an individual has their license they have a right (not a privilege) to drive for the rest of their lives.  This right becomes ingrained – which is why it becomes so difficult to take the keys from Granny when she’s suffering alzheimers and mows down 4 pre-schoolers in her Crown Vic.  Currently, the only process to taking a driver’s license away from an elderly individual requires filing a report with the DMV, who then sends a letter for re-testing.  The individual either takes the test and passes, takes the test and fails and loses their license, or more often than not, simply never shows up, loses their license as a result, yet continues driving.

Personally, the crucible which truly shows who can drive and who can’t is the local autocross.  More often than not some young punk kid will run their mouth, show up to an autocross, get their ass kicked by a 17 year old in a Civic who has been competing since they were 5, and run off with their tail between their legs.  Events like autocrosses and high performance driving education teach individuals how their vehicles react at the limit.  These people know what happens when a car loses traction – in fact, they know the warning signs as to when the car is about to lose traction.  They know the limits of their car and its response to various inputs.  The average driver has no idea how their car reacts to sudden inputs, what signs the tires or steering are showing that traction is being lost, and has no idea what their threshold braking point is.  Most importantly, autocrosses are timed events – they can objectively determine who can drive and who can’t.

Yours truly, finding the limits of wet adhesion.

Plus, its lots of fun.


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