We all need driving lessons

Gerry Phelan
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I probably won’t make any friends today, but here goes: I want all of us to go back to school. We all need a refresher in driver training.

Don’t yawn — I’m serious. I’ve never been big on over-regulation, but I think we should have to re-qualify for our driver’s licences, maybe every 10 years. I’m sick of blaming the other guy. I am more convinced than ever that few of us are equipped for what faces us on the road today.

There are simply more vehicles than ever. Figures released by Statistics Canada this summer tell us that in 2010, there were 335,000 registered vehicles on the highways and byways of this province; that’s 80,000 more than a decade earlier.

Add to that an aging population. The roads we trained on when we got our driver’s licences however many years ago are not the same as today. Pitts Memorial Drive, or the harbour arterial as some of us call it, wasn’t even finished when I got my licence in the 1970s; now we have bypass roads everywhere and the Outer Ring death trap.

I’ve played Outer Ring Road roulette for the past six months. People who travel that highway will know what I’m talking about. Every morning I’ve guided my vehicle up that on-ramp in Paradise and tried to merge into the eastbound traffic flow. Eyes checking the cars in front of me, a quick peek at the rearview to see how close the tailgater is, a glance at my side mirror and over my shoulder to see what’s barrelling toward me in that lane I’m trying to get into, and a heck of a lot of prayers. It’s like facing a loaded gun daily.

I know every time I successfully merge into traffic, I breathe a sigh of relief and try to enjoy the rest of the commute. “Enjoy” is too kind a word because we still have to deal with the reckless and disrespectful drivers.

Last Friday morning, a huge dump trunk whizzed by me in the sheets of rain. God forbid if that truck had been forced to stop suddenly. It would have been certain death for some other driver. I wanted the licence plate, but I was too busy just trying to keep my own car under control. I mouthed the word “asshole” and hoped that was the last I would see of him.  

Then we have the arrogant ones, the drivers who figure the highway is theirs and move in and out of any lane they choose — no turn signals, no consideration for who is in front of them or who is behind them. Those are often the same ones you will see shouting at other drivers for going too slow, even though slow makes sense in wet weather.

A few weeks ago, a reader, urging me to address this issue, asked “Have we lost all respect for others? Do we not care about the safety of ourselves or others? Has prosperity turned us into an arrogant, non-caring society?”

Can’t we make time to put on makeup at home? Do we really need to try to butter that bagel while driving in rush-hour traffic? Look, even the one hand you have on the wheel while you sip that piping hot coffee is dangerous at 100 kilometres an hour.

It’s tough to admit it, but I’m really not sure I have the confidence or skills to navigate the roads today. My driver training didn’t involve merge lanes and four-lane highways. It didn’t take into account the speeds we see today, or the many distractions. The most difficult part of the driver’s test in 1976 was parking, and some instructors even gave us ways to cheat on that. Many of us could use a defensive driving tutorial.

I think there’s merit in upgrading our driving skills. Mandating that drivers retest every 10 years might make our roads a little safer. At the very least, the government should make such driver education tax-deductible to entice people to participate.

Something has to change. It’s not always the other guy. But he should get retested, too.


Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at gerryp@bellaliant.net

Organizations: Statistics Canada

Geographic location: Outer Ring Road

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Recent comments

  • Joe
    October 04, 2013 - 18:27

    I think that if Gerry thinks he needs to update his driving skills he should take on of the Defensive Driving Courses which he addressed.

  • Jeremiah
    October 04, 2013 - 14:14

    I get two impressions from this piece: (1) The writer has a bias against older people who are generrally good drivers and is, therefore, guilty of ageism. Ugly. (2) the writer seems to be a very poor driver and thinks everyone else is as bad a driver as he is.

  • Jeremiah
    October 04, 2013 - 14:12

    I get two impressions from this piece: (1) The writer has a bias against older people who are generrally good drivers and is, therefore, guilty of ageism. Ugly. (2) the writer seems to be a very poor driver and thinks everyone else is as bad a driver as he is.

  • RGB
    October 04, 2013 - 14:04

    I've thought the same thing over the years: there was 1 stoplight in Clarenville when I learned to drive. So much has changed. This past summer while driving on the 401 & the 400 in Ontario, my husband commented on how people "know how to drive" in Ontario. Sadly, if your suggestion were to happen, it would be yet another cost...but then I think of my children driving on these roads when they're of age; there is validity in what you suggest.

  • LDT
    October 04, 2013 - 13:54

    I completely agree. I was terrified to get my license, in fact I didn't get it until I was 32, and AFTER I took the course and spent time on the road with an instructor. I am a pretty good driver, but the yahoos that I see on the road every day just scared the hell out of me! The defensive driving techniques I learned in driving school helped me, but I am afraid for the day when somebody's else's stupidity will do me in!