America needs better driving standards

Anthony Carpio

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Students walk past a stop sign at the intersection of Etiwanda and Prairie on Monday. Photo Credit: Kathleen Russell / Daily Sundial

A Northridge woman was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the September 2008 hit-and-run death of a CSUN student during the summer. Just this past Thursday, another CSUN student who was riding their motorcycle was sent to the intensive care unit after a driver of a light-grey SUV ran a red light and struck them. The student is currently in critical condition, but he could be part of the national statistic of traffic fatalities.

According to the statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), not only have pedestrian fatalities gone down, but traffic fatalities in general have gone down since 2005.

With 4,333 traffic fatalities in 2005 compared to 3,081 in 2009 in California, it appears that the government has done its job to make sure these numbers continue to drop. Though traffic fatalities are one area the NHTSA reports on, there is another area that I found quite interesting.

In 2008, the NHTSA discovered that 60 percent of fatal crashes were single-vehicle crashes, and from that statistic, 71 percent of those crashes were run-off-road crashes. A run-off-road crash is where the vehicle runs off the road and crashes into an object. What I found that was interesting was that 95 percent of these accidents were due to driver errors.

Overcompensating the steering wheel when turning, poor directional control, and driving too fast for the conditions; these are the factors that make up that 95 percent. What this tells me that we as Americans are horrible drivers. When we remove driving under the influence fatalities from the mix, the main reason why people get into car accidents is because they can’t drive.

The fatality rates of driving are staggeringly high.

All of us that drive (hopefully) have had to take driver’s education and pass the driving exam at some point or another, so that means we have the ability to drive, right? Well that’s not exactly the case. If you flip through a driver handbook, the phrase “Driving is a privilege, not a right” is printed throughout its entirety. And it’s a privilege that a lot of people take for granted.

In order for someone to get a license in California a written test needs to be taken, several hours of driving behind the wheel, and a final driving exam at the end. But as I started to look into this topic, I was reminded of Finnish driving schools in an old episode of Top Gear U.K.

Host James May did a segment on becoming a better driver and chose Finland as the country to help him reach that goal, and with good reason. It takes three years, regardless of age, to get your driver’s license in Finland.

During those three years, the driver must complete numerous theory tests (which are similar to the written tests), as well as six driving lessons on a wet skidpad. No wonder Finland produces more championship drivers in World Rally Championship and Formula One than any other country.

“You’re going to become a racing driver,” May said.

Humanities major Anthony Sigala said that the United States should make our driving tests more rigorous, which makes a lot of sense. Our driver’s education is a joke compared to other countries. According to Expat Finland, a Finnish driving exam is 45 to 60 minutes long. All we have to do is take a 10 to 15 minute driving test and they mail us our license when we pass.

Turning to automobile manufactures to solve reduce accidents is certainly not the right thing to do. Sure, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have developed new technological features help prevent accidents. Volvo created Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist and Distance Alert, and Mercedes-Benz with DISTRONIC PLUS. Both do the same thing: it allows you to use your cruise control to keep pace with the car in front of you. Should the car in front of you slow down or if you’re not paying attention, the car will automatically apply the brakes and ensure that you don’t cause a fender bender.

This technology can be usefully down the road, but it’s not quite ready yet. Dr. C.T. Lin, a mechanical engineer professor at CSUN, explained to me that this kind of technology is still in development. He added that it could take up to 10 to 15 years before it becomes perfected.

I’m not against new technology, but one thought that worries me is that people will become dependent on using these features. They are meant to aid us, not to make our decisions for us. If manufactures find a way to have the car steer for us as well, then I consider us doomed as a society. Maybe there will be a day when engineers and automobile manufacturers produce cars that can drive us around, but until then better driver education is the fastest route to decreasing accidents.