Steve Wallace: B.C.’s driver-licensing system is unfair

Generational disparity and inequity are the unintended consequences of the well-intentioned B.C. driver-licensing system. Here is the reality.

New drivers, the vast majority of whom are teenagers, must wait a minimum of three years before gaining a full and regulatory-unencumbered driving privilege. This is the longest probationary period in North America. They hold a learner’s licence (L) for a year and a new-driver designation (N) for two years. Most turn 19 years of age on or about the same time they get their full licence and are legally permitted to consume alcohol. Nobody in their right mind, and in authority, could have intended this collision of freedom and responsibility, to the detriment of these probationary licensed drivers. Here is a solution to this timeline “collision”: Make the two-year N wait time a shorter, 18-month period. This will avoid the above-mentioned time “collision” where unencumbered driving and legal alcohol consumption occur.

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Why two practical driving tests? The first test is generally conducted at speeds no greater than 50 kilometres per hour. The second test has a mandatory highway component. If the driver candidate has a clean record, with no traffic violations and no blamable crashes in the 18-month period, forgive the second test. This will be a reward for good driving behaviour, a refreshing change from a predominately penalty-riddled system. Food for thought?

Seniors at 80 years of age must attend at a doctor’s office for mandatory driver’s medical and cognitive assessment. The average cost to the senior is about $200. If the government makes this mandatory, the government should pay the bill. The solution to this odd and relatively unnecessary appointment fee is to have those seniors with blamable crashes and/or several moving violations go to the doctor’s office. It is reasonable for this group to pay a fee for past driving indiscretions and prove they are still fit to drive.

The senior driving test is a 90-minute affair. If it takes 45 minutes to test an inexperienced teen, why 90 minutes for a senior? Many attending seniors complain of fatigue. The pass/fail result is given immediately upon completion of the road test for all other candidates. Why do seniors have to wait for a two- to three-week period to receive their road test result? The physical and cognitive tests might be justifiably delayed, but there is no valid reason to provide anything but an immediate pass/fail road test result, as is the case with every other road-test classification.

There is a relatively small group of drivers who account for a disproportionately high number of crashes and moving violations in B.C. Financial penalties only affect those with limited ability to pay. Wealthy drivers can afford such financial penalties. Long driving suspensions are the obvious answer to those seemingly unaffected or unmotivated by financial penalties. These “In-Betweens” are consuming far too much of our police and legal community time and effort. The combination of steep financial consequences and long suspension periods seems to have little behaviour modification potential for this group. We have been far too reactive in our treatment of this small contingent. Periods of incarceration for those chronic offenders might be the final stage of a graduated penalty program.

The Driving Schools Association of the Americas annual convention is in Oklahoma this year. There will be experts in several aspects of driver education giving presentations on a variety of topics. I am attending once again, and will be returning with relevant information that I look forward to sharing with readers.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.

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