18.12.11

THE CASE FOR MORE RIGOROUS DRIVER PREPARATION.

Larry Webster of Popular Mechanics comes close to alleging that the two easiest licenses to get are a driving license and a marriage license.
It’s true that drivers not focused on the task at hand are a risk to everyone on the road. But the real problem isn’t our gadgets. It’s us. Why do we treat driving so frivolously that we allow ourselves to be easily distracted?

Perhaps it’s because Americans have come to regard a driver’s license as a right—not a privilege. In this country, it’s ridiculously easy to get a license. Just think back to your driver’s test. I took mine in a parking lot, and the gruff man doing the grading never got a chance to see how I’d merge onto a highway or where my eyes focused when approaching an intersection. The hardest part, as it is for many license-seeking teenagers, was parallel parking. That skill comes in handy now and then, but how important is it to being safe on the road?

America’s lax standards about driving tests and entitlement about driving are just symptoms of our lackadaisical attitude toward driving. And that attitude conveys exactly the wrong message: Driving is a cakewalk, so why not send a few texts while we’re behind the wheel?
He's reacting to a possible federal ban (yet another unenforceable law) on using cell phones, including the hands-free version, and texting (what about Citizens Band and ham radio?) while driving.  After a meditation on the usefulness of more rigorous driver training and testing, he gets to the heart of the matter.
Some would argue that the cost of that training is prohibitive (about $2500). But just think of how much we spend on the safety features—such as airbags, antilock brakes, stability-control systems—that are now required in every car.

I’m not suggesting that those features be removed. I am saying that we rely on cars to do too much for us. This morning I heard a caller on a talk show say that the solution to distracted driving is new safety systems that warn of accidents and even automatically stop the car if necessary. Engineers are already working on those kinds of systems, and no doubt they’ll be useful. But they’re Band-Aids. Shouldn’t the responsibility for avoiding trouble ultimately rest with the driver?
That's something economists have long understood. George Stigler quipped that cars go faster because they have good brakes, and the origin of the proposal that there be a spear on the steering column to concentrate the mind is with Armen Alchian or Gordon Tullock.  It all sounds a bit silly, but there's a serious implication.  The safer people perceive their cars to be, the more risks they take with them.
A person behind the wheel of [a four wheel drive vehicle] is far more likely to be wielding a mobile phone while driving, and less likely to wear a seatbelt, researchers say. They have concluded that four-wheel-drive owners take more risks because they feel safer.
Put it together and the proposal might appeal to environmentalists and fans of small cars.  People buy the large four-wheel drives for a misplaced feeling of security, then dissipate some of the security in distracted driving (hey, the person my urban tank rams bears the burden.)

RUNNING EXTRA.  Froma Harrop may be making the same connection.
Moving at a stately 30 mph, the woman drove her tanklike vehicle right through the stop sign and almost through me as I crossed the street.

Like the psychiatrist assigning mental illness at the mere sound of crazy shouting, I didn’t have to look at the motorist. I just knew from her behavior that she was yakking on a cellphone. Sure enough, she was.

Many of us who play pedestrian – even if only in parking lots – have dodged motorists blankly staring out the windshield as they jabber on the phone. Between now and 2012, countless families will have suffered tragedy at the hands of these distracted drivers. And nothing will have been done about their dangerous practice, given the strong political and societal forces amassing in its defense.
It's not clear which coalition of political and societal forces she has in mind.  She continues to note that there is no such thing as multitasking, only switching from doing one thing badly to another.

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