Should we get rid of driving tests?
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp suspended driving tests in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, instead granting new permits to people without requiring them to jump through the hoops. But despite warnings that it would be a disaster, we haven’t seen a massive fallout. This prompted Jalopnik alumnus Aaron Gordon to come up with a very controversial pitch: abolish the driving test.
It seems almost counterintuitive at first, but Gordon notes that there is no real research that correlates driving tests with increased road safety; instead, the tests primarily bolster the driver education industry, but don’t appear to have a measurable impact on actual performance on the road. Gordon also highlights the inequalities that come into play. Vice article:
Correcting the way we think about driving tests and abolishing them altogether is important for more than just reducing the number of people who die on American roads. It is emblematic of the larger American struggle to make our institutions more just. The implication of earning a driver’s license is that the license can be suspended or revoked for driving like a maniac. And, indeed, they can be, including for dangerous behaviors such as driving while intoxicated. But such cases are the exception, not the rule. A New Jersey licensing study found that in 2018 5.5% of all licenses were suspended, but a whopping 91% of those suspended licenses were for non-driving reasons, such as as non-payment of fines. Overall, licenses are suspended as a punishment not for driving badly, but for being poor. This is an extension of our national policy of criminalizing poverty and using traffic law enforcement as an excuse to get fines to pay a bloated criminal justice system funded by those same fines. . And by having a suspended license, it makes it more difficult for that person to get and keep a job, a necessary prerequisite to paying the very fines that resulted in the license suspension in the first place.
When I saw Gordon’s title, I immediately jumped at my own conclusion: no. We have to keep the tests. How are we supposed to regulate who travels on the roads? How do you prevent dangerous drivers from driving?
But as I read his story, I remembered one evening at my own driver training course in Michigan. After school, myself and two other girls were paired up for a long drive into town that would teach us how to navigate things like roundabouts and freeways, which we didn’t have in my small town. The problem was that it had started to rain. We are talking about conditions close to whiteout. We had to get this drive, so we went there anyway. It was terrifying, but we could barely see any of the lines on the road so it was deemed safe enough.
The conditions were so bad that we couldn’t get to the highway. I had the first drive in and then we switched to one of the other drivers. On the way back, we switched to our last driver.
She was a disorder. She was constantly driving in oncoming traffic, confusing their roads with hers. When our instructor corrected her, she alternated between screaming and bursting into tears before throwing herself on the side of the road. She got us into a spin, at which point she was thrown out of the driver’s seat. I must have run over us the rest of the way back.
This girl, however, still passed her driver training, although she also did poorly on her road sign tests. She then took her driving test and got her license – “barely,” she told us. She destroyed two cars in high school. As far as I know she still drives today.
And she wasn’t the only one who had dubiously succeeded. I grew up in a poorer area, and even though we were supposed to take our driving test with the car we planned to drive regularly, the exam proctors would look away if you hired a nice car to bring because your daily would not. go through the basic inspection that made sure you know your headlights were working. The test proctors were very arbitrary in their assessments because they weren’t paid so much to spend a Saturday being driven by a teenager. I bombed the parallel parking lot with my driver’s license, which was supposed to be an automatic failure, and I was successful. I had a friend who did it all but didn’t look right and left enough at stop signs, so he failed. I had friends who went to different supervisors and DMVs until they had a supervisor who didn’t care.
So I think Gordon is right. The driving test, as we know it, does little to ensure driver education or safety, especially if you can search for a lenient DMV or if you can work your way to a license. After all, how many times have you stopped at a four-lane intersection with no traffic lights and found out for yourself how well people remember the driving etiquette?
Check out Gordon’s article, then let me know what you think. Are you convinced that we should abolish the driving test? Do you have an alternative? Are you in favor of what we have now?