Friday, September 21, 2012

How Drivers Licenses Should Work

I like to pride myself in experimenting with a multitude of ground transportation options in Dallas.  So far, these options have included Walking, Cycling, Bus Riding, Driving and Train Riding.  Over the last five years, I've experimented with all of these, and with combinations of these to get where I am going.  Growing up in Louisiana, these options weren't really available or viable because public transportation was weak and destinations were sprawled out.  Within the next few weeks, I will be adding another mode: Motorcycling (more specifically, scootering :)

This inspired me to look at how licensing currently works in Texas, so first I looked at my drivers license.  I have a Class 'C' license that permits me to "drive...a single unit vehicle, or combination of vehicles that is not in  class A or B and a single unit vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 26,001 lbs..."  Class A would include any vehicle or combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 lbs with weight towed in excess of 10,000 lbs.  Class B is the same, but permits a person to drive a bus with a seating capacity of 24 passengers or more including the driver.  Motorcycles are a class M, and are 'off to the side' if you will, conferring the same privalages as the Class C, and is awarded in tandem with C, so licenses are class CM.

What this says is that there is some escalation of licensing for operating vehicles on the road.  Most users are Class C, but if you want to drive something more challenging, you need a higher classification, additional fees and testing; and this is exactly how it should work.  One should crawl before he or she walks.  But I think that we have skipped a few steps.

Shouldn't licensing be about operating within a public right of way, a road, and sharing that road with all road users?  I personally feel like people don't give driving the serious attention that it deserves, and often, the education for sharing the road begins at motorized vehicle use (excepting mopeds and motorcycles in Texas).  I think that there should be at least two steps of escalation prior to obtaining  a class C license.

First, people should learn how to be pedestrians.  I know this sounds stupid, you put one foot in front of the other, right?  You'd be surprised how often you see pedestrians do things that compromise their rights and safety as pedestrians within the city.  Crossing against a signal is a popular one, often not even looking both ways before doing so.(Sec. 552.002)  Another is crossing mid block, where technically drivers that already occupy the lane have the right of way (Sec. 552.005).  It may not be illegal to cross mid block in certain circumstances, but pedestrians must yield the right of way to do so.    There also seems to be confusion about crossing the street at uncontrolled intersections, especially where a all-way stop is not present (hint:  pedestrians should look both ways).  One you see in my neighborhood is using the streets for walking or jogging which is against the rules if a sidewalk is present. (Sec. 552.006, walkers and joggers have my sympathy, our sidewalks are very poorly maintained by the city of Dallas)  If we can't be pedestrians, how can we expect to drivers to operate safely with pedestrians in the same roadway?

Second, people should learn how to safely operate bicycles in the street.  This is another class of road users with whom automobile drivers will need to share the road space.  This is a big step because this is the 'lowest' form of vehicle that has to obey traffic laws that apply to automobiles. (Sec. 551.101...I hesitate to use the form lowest, perhaps lowest cost, lowest impact to roadways...)  This is the first opportunity for someone to understand the flow of traffic, the navigation of right-of-way.  There is no age limit, insurance requirement, and the barrier to entry is very low.

I don't think pedestrians or cyclists should require a license because the consequences of failing to follow the rules mostly rest with either the pedestrian or the cyclist.  However, I do think that a demonstration of knowledge of both should be required before obtaining a license to operate an automobile.  There should be a mandatory class for children in school to learn first how to be a pedestrian.  The rules are simple and the consequences of failure are apparent.  Then they should take a test to prove an understanding of the concepts.  Likewise, there should be a kind of driving school for cycling that is mandatory for children, and again a test should prove an understanding of the rules of the road.  Only after successful completion of these should a young person be allowed to operate a 2,000 lb machine that is potentially a deadly instrument on the road.

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