I will never forget the day my grandfather was lying on his would-be death bed in a hospice after beginning to make slight health improvements. He had been battling respiratory issues due to decades of smoking cigarettes, fallen to critical condition, only to make a little forward progress and all he could talk about was how he was going to drive his car once he recovered. The problem was, my grandfather had been in no condition to drive a vehicle on the road long before he took a turn for the worst. Often he would forget to put the car into gear and rev the engine while stationary in parking lots, mis-judge stopping distances due to his failing vision and even worse physical reaction times, and new scratches and dents would show up on his car without explanation. During his brief period of health improvement before his eventual passing, my mother asked his doctor if there was anything he could do to make sure my grandfather would not drive if he did indeed pull through. The doctor told her that he legally could declare him unfit to drive and have his license pulled, but he wouldn't even think about filing the paperwork. There was a huge risk of having a lawsuit filed against him that he did not want to assume. My grandfather did pass away a few weeks later and while I loved him and respected him, he didn't share much regard to road safety which was probably just a product of his stubborn and resilient nature.
This is where I hit a wall of sorts when it comes to both obtaining and maintaining a driver's license in my country and it bothers me to my core practically every time I get behind the wheel. Since driving cars has been so much more prevalent in the United States over a longer period of time than pretty much anywhere else, most of us Americans assume this action is a "right" for being a citizen and not a privilege it as it stands in actuality. I would go so far as to argue that the majority of the people in this country would fail the driver's license exam if they had to take it again in both written and road-tested form.
When I was a kid, my big dream was to drive a car and that was the only goal I really had in life until I actually obtained my license one year and one day after turning sixteen years old. While having my instructional permit I had driven to church with my parents every Sunday, which is about twenty miles round-trip, as well as every time we went to the store or out to eat. Most of my friends, however, did not have as much experience as I did when they obtained their licenses. Looking back at the process now and seeing just how young these high school kids appear and act (I'm nearly 28 years old) really makes me wonder if someone of that age is really mature enough to handle a car, and makes me question whether or not I was in the same boat at their age. After thinking it over, my realization is that I really wasn't quite mature enough to be driving at sixteen, though in the moment, I would have thought much differently about the statement I just made.
A few weeks ago, my friend's mother told me that when she took her driving test as a teenager, she was required to demonstrate basic maintenance operations on the vehicle she took the exam with. Meaning, a part of your test consisted of showing the proper way to change a tire on the car, check the air pressure, the oil, and a few other bits and pieces the majority of drivers in this day and age have no clue about. When I took my written test, I studied and passed it without a problem. A year later, my mom had to sign off some paperwork saying I had completed "x" number of hours driving a car on the road, and then I took my actual driving test, which was in a parking lot with lines painted on it. I also passed that test without issue. There was nothing I had to prove to those State of Georgia appointed test administrators about my ability to avoid a collision, drive in the rain, change a tire, or know anything other than how to put the car in gear and slowly drive around with my seatbelt fastened. The biggest "scare" of anyone getting their license during that time had to do with being able to parallel park properly, which is not difficult if you actually practice as you should have been doing anyway. Sometime since that point, the testing practice has been altered to require actual road tests in lieu of the parking lot exams of my day, but in most cases, that means driving around a city block about half a mile and as long as you signal and don't run into anything, you're fine. The exception to this rule is when you take your full, Class-M (motorcycle) road test, which is still done in a parking lot and how I obtained mine a few years ago.
The thing is, most states do not require any sort of driver's education courses in order to obtain a driver's license, which baffles me completely. Those powers that be would rather the parent or guardian of those getting their license vouch that they have completed the minimum requirement for obtaining it. After that point, and regardless of whether or not the parent/guardian was truthful, all they have to do for the rest of their lives is pop in to re-register their little endorsed ID card every few years, and take an eye exam given by a law enforcement officer, not an actual optometrist. Pass that "test" and you are good to go for a few years.
At my last job, there were about thirty total employees, which is pretty high for a country club. Out of those thirty or so employees, I can name off seven people who received DUIs during my five year stint in management there, one of which was nineteen years old. The fun thing about all of those people? Not a single one of them lost their license as they were all issued "work permits". I am not sure if this is the same for all other states, but in Georgia, after you make the stupid, and inexcusable decision to drive while drunk or high, you can still legally drive again almost immediately after the fact. I cannot wrap my brain around this and I will never understand why such leniency exists. From what I gather, in the eye of the local court system, making a "mistake" like driving under the influence is not grounds enough for the state to put you in a position where you could potentially lose your job if you cannot show up to work. Nope. I don't care how you try to justify this in any direction, but I will never support it in the least bit.
There is a big difference between making a mistake and making a decision. A mistake is something which happens from being uninformed about a situation, while making a decision is just that – a choice you make on behalf of yourself. Operating a vehicle while intoxicated is not a mistake, but a decision made by every person who has ever taken to the road in said state. You do not rob a bank by mistake, nor do you get married by mistake as they are both decisions accepted and followed through with. The same logic applies to driving while under the influence of anything. People who risk the lives of everyone else on the road, the lives of whomever may be in the car with them, as well as their own lives are given a "pass" in many cases instead of having their license taken away until they prove themselves responsible enough to obtain a new one. Do you have a DUI lawyer? You may end up with a lesser consequence than those who go to trial without. Should the amount of money you put up correlate to the sentence you are given when you make such a stupid and selfish driving choice? Absolutely not, but it often does and makes me sick. Yes, I am well aware of how the legal system works in America, but I also firmly believe that if you commit a crime, you should own up to it without being an entitled brat and trying to get a lesser consequence – period.
I really do feel as if most of us find some sense of entitlement to having a license in the United States, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post. For some reason, being an American means we have the "right" to drive, and requiring mandatory re-testing or refresher courses during our stint as licensed drivers would somehow be discriminatory, because it seems like everything we do these days must be politically correct. I hate this so much. As a result of this logic, I have a list of people in my circle I will not get into a car with under any circumstance if they are behind the wheel – this should not even happen. I am sure most people have a similar list as mine, but the thing is, we joke about these people, how many accidents they get into, how they keep their cars in an unsafe state of disrepair, how they have no coordination or depth perception, and it is somehow not a problem for them to be rolling down public streets piloting a deadly weapon? Nope. Again, I do not understand this logic.
By no means am I the world's most perfect driver and I understand that, but I also believe there should be much more to obtaining and maintaining driving privileges for Americans. I would fully stand behind proper training courses being mandatory from the day you are initially licensed, and at set intervals during your lifetime. If you cannot pass after the second time, you stay on a probationary period for a bit until you can test again, just like many European countries do. This would end the "come back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day..." until you finally pass it mentality which exists here. Failing the test enough times should mean "game over" and not taking it in continual succession until you pass it as a fluke or by sheer luck. Some people should not be driving in the same way some people should not be farmers, carpenters, or lawyers. People do not seem to realize that driving a car puts them under liability for every person they pass on the street, regardless of them being in another vehicle, or on foot. People also do not realize that a car in motion is, in fact, a deadly weapon and can be seen as such in court. Unfortunately, for now, we are stuck with having to continually self-educate concerning proper driving techniques in this country and the sad thing is, most of us don't take the responsibility to even give that much effort. Having a license is good enough for most of us. We have no reason to improve our driving habits or abilities, because if we don't get a citation, it isn't illegal. Right...
Driving is a learning process – a continual learning process.
Driving is a privilege.
Driving is not a right.
Think about the safety of others instead of making excuses for your bad driving.
Grace and Peace, -J. Drew Silvers
*The photo at the top of the page was my car. 1994 Z28, Arctic White, color-matched salad shooters, T-56. In 2006, I t-boned a guy who turned left in front of me, coming the opposite direction. He was on the phone when I ran into him and stayed on the phone until the cops showed up and told him to hang it up. The collision was his fault, totaled my car and the minivan he was driving which was a rental given to him after causing an accident the week before. He never said a word to me, not one. But after receiving his ticket, he resumed his phone call.