Driving a car is a routine part of most Americans’ daily life. According to the American Automobile Association, the average American drives about 29.2 miles per day. We drive cars so often that the act of operating a vehicle becomes muscle memory—and we become incognizant of how dangerous driving actually is.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 33,804 motor-vehicle traffic-related deaths in the United States in 2013. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 94 percent of these motor vehicle accidents were the result of human error. This is an astonishingly high number, indicating that most traffic accidents are avoidable. Drivers must be held to a higher standard in order to decrease the number of traffic accidents in the U.S.
The standards for becoming a licensed driver in New York are astoundingly low. I argue that, considering the number of accidents and injuries that occur on the road each year, New York’s low testing standards are woefully overlooked as a major public health and safety issue. As it stands, the Department of Motor Vehicle’s requirements for obtaining a driver license are relatively lax. The DMV requires applicants to be at least 16 years of age, complete one pre-licensing course, complete 50 hours of supervised driving practice and pass a road test.
On paper, these look like pretty decent requirements that would result in only well-practiced drivers obtaining their driver’s license. But considering the number of traffic accidents in the U.S. per year, these standards are evidently not high enough.
The simplest way to raise driving standards and to mitigate accidents caused by human error is to make the process by which one becomes a licensed driver more difficult.
I know from personal experience how easy it is to pass the New York state road test. I passed the road test at 16 years old in Catskill, NY, despite the fact that I probably had no business being an unsupervised driver. For example, at one point during the test—which took only about 15 minutes to complete—I asked the test administrator if I could make a right-hand turn at a red light. That every licensed driver knows all of the traffic laws involving intersections should be a given––I would argue that my not knowing this rudimentary traffic law should have disqualified me from passing the test. Yet despite not knowing one of the most fundamental traffic laws, I passed the test and received my driver’s license.
In order to raise driving standards and thereby lessen motor vehicle accidents, road tests must be more stringent and broader. A road test that lasts 15 minutes surely does not sufficiently measure the test-taker’s competency as a driver. Additionally, test-takers should be required to demonstrate via written examination their ability to handle certain situations that would otherwise be too hard to contrive in a road test scenario. These situations should include yielding to emergency vehicles, demonstrating proper technique for driving in heavy rain or snow and merging into heavy traffic.
By more thoroughly testing drivers’ ability to comply with traffic laws and to effectively operate a motor vehicle, we can ensure that bad driving habits are reduced. And breaking unsafe driving habits is necessary to ensure safety on the road.