Monday 28 January 2013

Teens face an L of a test

Reading the Sunday Times print edition yesterday afternoon, my eye happened to catch a taster on the front page of the “Driving section” (a place a have cased to visit since its regular “Bike Guy” feature seems to have disappeared – not that the perspective on bicycles contained therein appealed to me much anyway).  For those of you who have an online subscription (which personally I consider to be well worth the £2pw it costs me) you can find it here.

“Teens face an L of a test” shouts its headline.  The story, simply, is of the increasing difficulty and complexity of the driving test, with new written theory elements being introduced and the practical test becoming harder.  This, it suggests, is one of the principal reasons why young people are staying away from cars in droves.

Really?  And there was I thinking it might be eye-watering insurance premiums – because young male drivers have a very poor crash record, and young females are no longer permitted to have lower premiums which reflect their safer driving behaviour because apparently that is “discrimination” so, surprise surprise, the insurers have raised premiums to a level, rather than lowered them.  Or it could be the difficulty in finding a decent job with which to test the skills they have so expensively learned at Uni (and getting worse, as they start to pay for the free Uni education which my generation enjoyed) so they couldn’t actually afford a car even if the insurance was more reasonable.  I suppose the cost of fuel might be in there as well but the AA and RAC report that fuel is still a pretty minor element in car costs, and it is certainly cheaper as a marginal cost, once you own a car, than any form of public transport.

Anyway, it does really sound like it has become harder to take a driving test, but should that trouble us?  I can’t believe that really worries youngsters who have become used to working their rocks off to pass GCSEs and AS levels and A levels which, while they might perhaps have become less challenging per grade-point, have surely become harder as you have to have so many grade points these days.  After all, I was accepted to the University of Oxford in the ‘70s on an A,B & C while an applicant today would almost certainly need three or even four A/A*s.  I watch my sixth-form daughter’s diligence and effort and almost weep – when I am not gnashing my teeth at her surliness and rudeness!  So, the enhanced driving test is a minor challenge in comparison.

And anyway, should it be that easy–and that is before anyone introduces specific cyclist or pedestrian-awareness modules to the course?  Cars are after all very dangerous objects .  They have also become faster, heavier, and safer, more cotton-woolled for their occupants.

I would contrast the situation with flying.  For two decades, until I let it lapse, I was a qualified private pilot.  To qualify I had to undergo a minimum of 45 hours training, and as only those with really good flying aptitude can achieve it in the minimum, I like many others took 60 or more hours.  I also had to study for and sit a series of exams in aerodynamics, meteorology, navigation, aviation law etc. 

After that I had to stay in practice with a modest one hour per month average flying time, and do a retest every two years.  I had to demonstrate not only that I could take off and land, fly straight and level, turn etc, but that I could handle emergencies such as forced landings, fuel emergencies and engine failures, and loss of control.  One really elementary skill I had to demonstrate was collision avoidance. While there is a great deal less up there to collide with than there is down here, you had to be extra vigilant, and learn the techniques for actually seeing what you are looking at – apparently small objects which can suddenly seem rather big, apparently motionless objects which the eye tries to filter out but which can suddenly seem to move towards you, etc.  Does any of this sound familiar???

And yet, apart from a recent and terrible tragedy, can you recall ever hearing of a small plane or helicopter crash causing injury or death to someone on  the ground, outside the vehicle itself?
No, didn’t think so.

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