Parker’s Ed

Have you ever pondered how antiquated and inadequate New York’s requirements for getting a driver’s license are today?

The amount of time and energy devoted in Driver’s Ed and the testing process to parallel parking and three point turns is excessive and absurd, given that (a) the lion’s share of young drivers could manage to get themselves around New York perfectly well without ever parallel parking or making a three point turn, (b) if you make a mistake while parallel parking, you might bump a fender or have to start over and try it again, neither of which seems like much of a jeopardy in the grand scheme of things, and (c) it’s a whole lot easier (and safer) to go into a parking lot or drive around the block when you miss a turn, rather than doing a three point maneuver in the middle of the road, so why not teach that instead?

So, with parallel parking and three point turns mastered, kids can get their licenses without ever demonstrating that they know how to merge into high speed traffic on an interstate, navigate a traffic circle, or make a defensive maneuver to avoid an accident. And because they aren’t required to learn those things, they often don’t, and the jeopardy of their lack of training and inexperience is far more lethal and consequential than a dented bumper. I drive through the automotive meat-grinder intersection of I-87 and I-90 between Exit 24 and Fuller Road twice a day during the week, with its many complicated merges and lane shifts, and it’s disturbing how often traffic chaos erupts because a young person (most likely from the nearby University at Albany) just drives straight from an exit ramp into traffic without actually timing their merge or being aware of the the traffic coming at them from behind their left quarter panel.

There’s a lot of speculation in the media about why kids are lousy drivers, and people cite drugs and alcohol, cellphone or texting distractions, or even their not-yet-completely-developed brains, all of which are issues, sure, but the fundamental bottom line is: they often can’t drive well because the standards we set for them are so low, and they learn and master only the bare minimum of what they need to get their licenses. Which is essentially just enough to allow them to turn a ton-plus of plastic and metal and glass into a lethal weapon.

It’s not an entitlement to be able to drive, and I’d love to see the requirements tightened dramatically, and built around demonstrating that a young person can really drive a car, not just park it.

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