Cars

The One Thing That Should Be Required Before Getting a Driver's License

Published On 09/09/2016 Published On 09/09/2016

Fact: driver's licenses are far too easy to obtain in the United States. A ton of the things taught by driver's ed instructors and/or parents is a bald-face lie and totally outdated for a modern car, and don't even get me started on the sheer number of morons who text and take selfies while they drive. All that aside, when there's an emergency on the road or when the weather turns foul, the overwhelming majority of drivers are woefully unprepared to, shall we say, navigate the situation.

Why? Because there's absolutely no practical emergency-maneuver experience required -- let alone tested -- before teenagers get a card that enables them to operate a four-wheeled instrument of death on public roads. And make no mistake, any motorized vehicle is capable of lethal force.

There's a relatively simple fix to this, and fortunately, it's also fun as hell: make every student driver go to a car control clinic, where you learn exactly what to do when your car spins out on the highway and a ton of other practical safety maneuvers. 

Randy Cockrill / Tire Rack Street Survival

Car control clinics give you firsthand driving experience on dangerous roads

A car control clinic is typically a one day, hands-on course that teaches drivers (usually teens, but often people of any age can attend) the basics of, well, how to control their car. For example, students drive in circles on a swath of concrete covered in soapy water to actually feel what's it's like to spin out.

Students drive the same car they drive every day, and it hard-wires their brains with the do's and don'ts that most fully licensed drivers never learn. That's hugely important, because while knowing the theory of how to recover from a spin or drive on a slippery surface is better than nothing, it's another thing entirely to have actually done it. The same thing goes for emergency lane changes and sudden stops.

According to the National Director of the Street Survival course, "As of September 2015, 73% of the students that have taken Street Survival have not had a driving incident. Of those that report experiencing an incident, 80% indicate that they were not at fault." Given rates like that, the fact that proper training isn't already a requirement is beyond absurd.

Flickr/slgckgc

Countries with tougher tests have safer roads. Period.

The very unfortunate truth is that fully one third of all teenage deaths in the United States are the result of an auto accident, and teenage drivers are involved in one fifth of all fatal accidents. A lot of this stems from poor training.

When you compare the United States with other markets with similarly safe cars (i.e., Europe), it's pretty obvious we're far behind the curve. In Scandinavia, the driving test consists not only of daytime and nighttime driving, but of normal roads and slippery roads, too. If you can't control your car on the ice, you don't get to drive -- a policy as simple as it is logical. Germany adds a requirement that prepares you to drive at high speeds on the Autobahn, and also render first aid in an emergency.

In the US of A, you have to parallel park and use turn signals. Not exactly feats of proficient car control, regardless of how many people forget both of them the instant they get that little plastic rectangle with their photo.

Flickr/Alan High

Failing that -- there's an extremely fun alternative

Government-mandated car control clinics should absolutely happen, but as we all know, the government tends to agree to disagree. So what's another option to get the experience you need at controlling your car? Go to an autocross.

Autocross is a sport that driving enthusiasts do for fun, but it doesn't involve jumping cars over dirt, and it doesn't require you to grow a mullet. It does involve an expanse of pavement with a sea of cones laid out in the shape of a course to follow, and you'll learn a hell of a lot doing it. Driving through slaloms as fast as you can is shockingly similar to avoiding an accident on the highway -- as is trying to recover from the inevitable spin after you jerk the steering wheel too hard. Assuming the autocross is set up correctly, there's virtually no risk of physical damage to your car, and a roughly 100% chance that you'll walk away from the experience a better driver with a more complete understanding of what your car can do, and what to expect if you have to suddenly change lanes.


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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook. He learned much of his car control skill at a Sheriff's training facility that's kind of perfect for all of the above.

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