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Posted by on Jul 10, 2009 in Uncategorized | 12 comments

The incompetent shall inherit the roadway

All houses must be removed from the side of the roadway!

All houses must be removed from the side of the road!

Why do motorists seem increasingly incompetent? Well maybe because the traffic engineers keep trying to design the roads to compensate for irresponsibility and stupidity. Everything and everyone must be gotten out of the way of the incompetent!

When you design the system for minimal attention to the task, guess what you get?

Chipseal has an excellent post on the dumbing down of the American motorist:

It is foolishness to think we can reduce the carnage by making safer roads while ignoring the attitude of society toward responsible public behavior. There is no shame in poor driving skills, and no scandal if you cause a wreck and property damage. Changing this cavalier attitude would be more effective than “fixing the roads”.

Technology is doomed in an arms race with fools; There are so many of them and they are persistent and innovative!

Wonderfully sharp and funny!

On a serious note, there have been a barrage of crash reports in the last 6 months involving motorists veering off the road and killing cyclists on shoulders and bike lanes. I hate to bring them up, because it just scares people. It is statistically rare in a country of 300 million people… it just seems common because it makes the news. But it should not ever happen!

Our society continues to minimize and shrug off the serious responsibility of driving a motor vehicle. We treat it like an entitlement. We mask the responsibility for behavior in the language we use. And we keep trying to solve it from the wrong end.

If we are ever going to fix this problem we need to grow up and address the root causes. We will not have equity and justice in our traffic culture until:

  • we raise the level of testing and competence required for a driver’s license,
  • invest in alternative transportation so that a private automobile is not a necessity,
  • uphold appropriate punishment for irresponsible driving, and
  • return a sense of personal responsibility back to our social system.

This affects us, but it is not a bicycle specific issue. Neither is the deflection of focus specific to motoring culture. It’s the same pervasive mentality we see in popular bicycle advocacy—focusing on external and superficial stuff to avoid drilling down to the root causes of problems. Heck, why bother doing the hard work to cure the disease when you can simply mask the symptoms and no one is the wiser.

12 Comments

  1. Keri, you flatter me! (ChipSeal blushes)

    I would like to point folk over to Carbon Trace and this post http://isocrates.us/bike/2009/07/why-were-doomed/
    for more good stuff on this topic.

    With around 800 bicycle riders being killed in the United States each year, and most of them during temperate months, we could get around three deaths a day if all of them got national news. And Keri is right, it seems like cycling is really dangerous if it were in your face like that. Until you compare it to, say, drowning.

    Perhaps what we need is automobile deaths to get wider reporting. But there are so many, it would be numbing after just a little while.

    Auto wrecks are so common they don’t get wide coverage unless they are particularly gory or there is some scandal attached to it. (Celebrity, an off duty police officer or a prominent politician.)

    This is key, and it ought to be repeated; “This affects us, but it is not a bicycle specific issue.” Amen!

    As cyclists, we need to take our organizational skills and team up with other organizations that have a natural interest in a more civil community. Business groups, insurance associations, AARP, realtor associations, tourism councils…

  2. I’m not going to make any friends at AARP by saying this, but we have a problem in Florida with elderly people who should not be driving anymore. A local cyclist was hit and very seriously injured by an 85-year-old a few weeks ago. Another was left-crossed by an elderly man a few months ago.

    This issue speaks to two serious issues: the entitlement to drive and lack of alternatives—the necessity a private car for freedom of movement. Land use is in that one, too.

  3. I’m all over the necessity of viable alternatives to driving. If only all the babysitting money being spent on more forgiving poles, more siderails, etc were spent on Mass Transit… I just wish it didn’t feel like such a pipe dream.

  4. I strongly agree with the statement that it is too easy to get a driver’s license and too hard for one to be taken away from someone who is no longer a safe driver.

    In my opinion, the licensing system in The Netherlands is far superior and should be adopted in North America. This features extensive (and expensive) mandatory driver training and a test that is challenging to pass which tests “real life” safe driving skills.

  5. Joke I heard at a men’s breakfast in Naples, Fla.

    A bunch of elderly men are sitting around at a men’s breakfast complaining about their health issues. The first one says, “I get tired so easily these days. Sometimes I just fall asleep unexpectedly.”

    The second one says, “That’s nothing. At least you have your senses when you are awake. My hearing is so bad these days I’m almost deaf.”

    The third one says, “At least you can see. I’m completely blind in my right eye, and my left eye can only make out dim shapes – and only in bright sunshine.”

    The fourth one says, “Well, let’s count our blessings. At least we are all still driving.”

  6. From what I hear DL requirements in most Northern European countries are far superior to North America’s.

  7. Oh, Chipseal and Keri you’ve hit on one of my hot buttons!

    So much of urban design which is intended to improve civility on a human scale is often at odds with transportation design on an atumobile scale. Land use is definitely part of it, but then there are the land development regs that require wider turning radii, frangible trees along roadways (peds are fine along roadways, they’re frangible, trees kill, peds don’t), vast parking requirements, etc. Sadly, when it comes to public works departments, that comment in parens is often all too true. Lets not improve the pedestrian environment by planting trees that might provide shade because those same trees might kill a driver that runs off the road or also, get mired in the overhead utility transmission lines.

    The cognitive dissonance is amazing to me. People just accept that 43,000 people will die on our roads every year without ever really trying to address the problem. We’ll make cars safer and improve their handling, braking and ability to handle a crash, but address the actual drivers?

    Having grown up in south Florida, Palm Beach County to be exact, I can attest to the problems with elderly drivers and AARPs lobbying against restrictions on elderly drivers. The problems are exacerbated by the fact that many of the elderly in south Florida often come from transit friendly places and many never learn to drive until they retire and move to FL. Think about that for a minute.

  8. Laura dropped a bomb and said “Think about that for a minute.”

    Cripes! I hadn’t even thought about that. Reduced reflexes and acuity combined with a lack of experience.

    Yes, AARP is a major roadblock to regular testing of driver competence. They’d get no traction if our culture did not view driving as a right rather than a privilege.

    Look to private pilot licensing for some guidance. The FAA will snatch that ticket at the slightest heart murmur on your required medical exam. They’ll snatch that ticket if you get a DUI in car (or on a bike—DUI is DUI). Private pilots have to undergo a flight review (knowledge and practical testing) every 2 years.

    Of course flying is slightly more involved (not the mechanics as much all the other stuff). People are given the license to hurl a heavy machine at high speeds, down here on the ground, among other machines and exposed humans, with little initial testing and no follow-up.

  9. I’m not sure why this licensing topic hasn’t been “properly” expanded in the media and I rarely see it online either.

    Why limit the testing to the elderly drivers? Look what TS101 classes have done for cycling and cyclists’ safety. I’m really surprised that the state of Florida has mandated Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes for people seeking to get a motorcycle endorsement. One more step, make driver license renewals involve a driver retest. Currently, the license expires every six years, which isn’t burdensome if one has to also pass a comprehensive written and driving test. Create some jobs by allowing legitimate contractors to provide the instruction and testing, just as it is done with the MSF and the LAB/LCI/TS101 stuff.

    This would completely remove the supposed prejudice against elderly and might make the roads safer for the full population of road users.

  10. Drove past the Motorcycle class last weekend. Not a single crotch rocket driver in attendance.

  11. Eric, if it was an entry-level class, the motorcycles are provided. When I took it they were all 250cc street bikes. It’s nice, you can take it before buying a motorcycle.

    For the advanced class, participants bring their own motorcycles.

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