Monday, 20 February 2012

SA Licensing becoming ridiculously hard

[Edit per May 2013; this is now out of date... it is harder still.]

Congratulations, happy birthday, all that, you just turned 16 and got your L's.  Well, you went and paid $35 to sit a test, $55 to get your permit, (not to mention $10 for the 'Driver's Handbook'), sat a test, and, hopefully passed.  You are now the proud owner of a Learner's Permit.

But you still can't drive much.  You can't go above 80km/h, you can't drive alone, you can't have any alcohol in your system, and you are now subject to restrictions on passengers and hours of driving.  All of which are fair enough.  But the system for graduating from a Learner's Permit to a full license has become overly difficult and expensive. 

The SA Government website has this to say:

Getting a driver's licence

Getting a driver's licence involves gradually progressing through a series of stages until you are ready to graduate to a full driver's licence.

It involves:

Statistics show that new drivers, particularly those aged 16 to 24 years, are up to three times more likely to be involved in a serious road crash. But research has also found that strengthening the driving experiences and supervision of new drivers can lead to significant reductions in crashes both before and after obtaining a driver's licence.
To get your P’s you need to have held a learner’s permit for at least 12 months and completed at least 75 hours of supervised driving (including 15 at night). If you’re over the age of 25, you’ll need to hold your permit for only 6 months.

75 hours.  That is more than three full days of driving.  THREE DAYS!  Assuming your petrol tank can run your car for an average of 6 hours, that is more than 12 tanks of petrol.  And the government is talking about increasing the number of hours required to get your P1's and 2s.

Ok, fine.  New drivers are dangerous.  They don't know the roads, they are inexperienced, and they won't be able to react well to new situations.  There is no way they should be allowed to drive alone for a while.  They certainly shouldn't be allowed to drive with alcohol, and it makes sense to limit their top speed, at least for a while.

The new regulations are designed to reduce fatalities and accidents for new drivers.  Limiting passengers, on the surface, is a good idea, because it removes a distraction from the driver.  But that means that they will be exposed to potential distractions without having the experience to ignore them.  My sister was the most annoying little brat when I was driving, and I became very good at ignoring her (and other distractions) while I was driving.  I couldn't say the same for her, who never drove with more than two teenagers in the back until she got her full license.

But the number of hours is the real killer.  I was lucky enough that my parents let me drive to school every day once I got my L plates.  They would then drive on to work, so I didn't have to worry about car parking.  So I got at least a half-hour of heavy traffic driving experience 5 days a week, along with everything else I did.  My parents were fantastic about letting me drive everywhere we went.  Indeed, driving home from hahndorf one night, my mother fell asleep while I was driving.  About a week after the minimum period (6 months back then) I booked myself into a road test, passed, and got my P's.  I did take about 4 lessons just before the test, to make sure I had everything down-pat.  That cost nearly $400.

But now, there is no way I could get enough hours in the requisite time, and that is assuming that my parents let me drive every day.  (2.5 hours per week = 30 weeks, = 7.5 months, approx).  Ok, so I am a month behind the minimum, so what? (the minimum is now 12 months, or 6 if you are over 25.)  The assumption behind this figure is that I have access to someone else's car who can teach me to drive for 75 hours.  Great, suburban kids living with their folks are set, no worries.  Go ahead and get your P's asap.

But what about the 25 y/o who lives alone, or with somoene else without a license.  The only possible way for them to log 75 hours is to pay an instructor ($69/hour) for 75 hours of driving time.  $5,175.00.  Anyone got that much cash handy?  No?  Well, why don't you get a job and earn it?  Can't drive, can't get a job? 


Besides, I have a friend who got most of his driving hours by doing household chores.  His mother actually signed his logbook a certain number of hours for doing the dishes, or cleaning the house.

I am not saying that it should be easy to get a license, or that more experience isn't better.  I am saying that this concept that 'more hours is better' is flawed.  The government needs to think about policies that will encourage new drivers to get more experience without having to go to such a huge expense.

There should be day-long training sessions at central and regional locations where you can pay a nominal fee and get 5 hours of driving experience with qualified trainers.  How much better experience is that?  15 new drivers all driving around a closed network of roads.

This seems to be another knee-jerk reaction to bad fatality numbers.

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