Suggestion Box: More Comprehensive Drivers’ Education

If you spend any amount of time commuting in Greater Hartford by way of anything other than single-occupancy vehicle, you know there is a stigma to it. More than the stigma, there are countless safety issues — motorists turning right on red without stopping to look in all directions first; drivers who use no judgement about whether or not they can completely move through an intersection, who end up blocking crosswalks; bus stops that are not shoveled, forcing people to board by standing in snowbanks or the streets; motorists who choose to not remove copious amounts of snow from their vehicles before getting on the highway.

There’s no one cause. Some of these issues are the result of years of thoughtless design. Some of this is the practice of skirting responsibility and the remarkable lack of enforcement of our laws. A lot of this is entitlement, pure and simple.

We have been hearing this disturbing, judgemental sentiment lately about bus riders in relation to crossing the street in places other than crosswalks. There used to be a mid-block crosswalk on Main Street between Gold Street and Pearl Street. That was removed, despite the need for people to make quick transfers from buses on one side of the street to another. We have heard these folks called “lazy” by people who have never needed to ride buses on the regular, let alone make a transfer. It’s not as simple as walking to the corner. It’s walking to the corner, waiting for the pedestrian signal, waiting for the intersection to clear, and then getting to your bus. If you’re trying to get to a doctor’s appointment or a meeting on time, do you want to waste that extra 2-3 minutes and risk missing your bus? As a rider, you do not control the bus schedule. Depending on the route, you might be able to swing a ride every ten minutes, or, you have one shot at it per hour.

The thing is, those rushing to insult often have options: driving or ordering a service like Uber or Lyft. There is no requirement that they literally walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, every day, rain or shine or morning after a snowstorm.

But there should be.

Why is it that lessons in empathy are not woven into drivers’ education? In addition to learning motor vehicle operation and laws, learners should be required to spend at least one day riding the bus and making transfers.  Another day should be spent on bicycle safety, with learners having their butts on the saddles. Want someone to respect the three-foot law? Make him ride a bike in rush hour traffic to experience what it is like to be vulnerable, with vehicles flying by. Want someone to understand the need for caution around buses? Have him board one with a stroller when there are five-foot snowbanks along the roads.

A similar type of program is offered in Fort Collins, Colorado. That’s a great start, but we could take that to the next level.

There is much more useful content in the Connecticut Driver’s Manual now than there was a few decades ago, but that should not replace experiential learning as suggested previously. It also does not make a difference when you take into account our system. A person can obtain her license and then never have to revisit those road rules or retake the exam again unless she allows her license to lapse for several years or has it suspended. We wonder why retraining is not required for more motorists with fewer infractions, and also why we are not encouraged to review laws more regularly. At minimum, is a written exam (or computerized, as the case may be) every six or twelve years asking too much?

If administering more exams is not feasible, here’s another idea. With so many bills issued electronically, a link could easily be provided to documents like the manual. To get interactive, a small portion of the fee for license renewal or car insurance could be reduced if the driver takes and passes an online quiz that reviews, for instance, “right-of-way” rules. Another option is to create a one-page fact sheet that is mailed out with our car tax bills. Aside from the cost of paper, this will not add anything to postage because of the weight.

Is it inconvenient? Is it another hoop to jump through? There have been 47 traffic deaths in Connecticut to date in 2017. The total for 2015 was 283. For perspective, the total number of people murdered (or victim of non-negligent manslaughter) in Connecticut in 2015 was 115. If reducing the number of preventable deaths creates an extra burden, so be it.

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