Encouraging Disaster

Today’s was a ‘get out while I can’ ride – between showers; as work permits; in case the weather gets even worse. As it was, it was a largely grey and fairly cold spin – around the lanes and passing through Henley en route.

Riding around, I saw a learner driver get a simple T-junction totally wrong, ending up stalled half-way out in to the road being joined. The pupil, I’d guess mid-20s, was red-faced, visibly upset and obviously completely flummoxed. The instructor wasn’t looking too happy either. The car, a badged-up driving school’s vehicle, was for automatic-only tests.

And the not particularly original thought occurred to me: should we really offer automatic-only licences?

Such a licence is pretty limiting so, presumably, only people who can’t handle a manual gear box as well as all the other requirements of driving opt for it.

To state the obvious, driving is both dangerous and responsible; you can easily do an awful lot of damage in a car. You can end lives and wreck lives.

The huge majority of drivers on the roads can manage to steer, indicate and so on, and change gear, and drive day-in and day-out safely. Changing gear in a car isn’t difficult. If you, as an individual, can’t cope with it, in and of itself, then, presumably, physically, you’re not able to drive a standard vehicle*. If you can cope with it, but not at the same time you’re doing all the other things required of a driver, then, surely, that’s a pretty strong indication that you’re not mentally suited to driving.

That’s not meant to be harsh or unpleasant or discriminatory. That’s meant to be a simple recognition of the realities of the road: it’s a busy, dangerous environment which requires a lot of information to be taken-in and decisions made more-or-less instantly, and often more-or-less constantly, while carrying out the basic physical and mental task of driving a car.

If it’s not an environment and task an individual is suited to, then we shouldn’t try to lower the barriers to them joining – which is what an automatic-only licence is. We should be making sure the alternatives – public transport, cycling, whatever – are suitably attractive, so no-one feels that they have to learn to drive at all costs – costs to themselves and quite possibly to others. And as a society we shouldn’t look upon being a driver as the norm.

*And yes, of course if someone is limited physically but is mentally up to it, then that’s a different issue for which an automatic car can be an appropriate solution.