Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Super License

**Author’s Note:  I fully intended to publish a non-fiction book entitled SPEED WAS A FACTOR as the complete argument for what occurs below.  My foreseeable future, however, does not include enough calendar vacancy to allow it.  “The Idea” should be circulated, however, not hoarded; it is simply too important.  At least, I think so.

Death as a Bottom Line

You may have noticed my vitriolic tendencies towards the media’s misplaced sensationalisms regarding death and injury statistics.  To paraphrase a Star Trek adage, the death of a few outweighs the deaths of the many.  Not that one person’s death is any less important than another’s, no matter how it happened.  Death and injury (we’re talking minor scrapes to quadriplegia here) are bottom lines, and, what matters to most of us, I would prefer to hope, is if they were preventable.

Take for instance yearly averages for U.S. deaths, 2000-2010:

  • Firearm Homicides:  11,828 (source: cdc.gov) 
  • Airplane Crashes: 614 (source: ntsb.gov  *excludes 9/11) 
  • Motor Vehicle Wrecks: 36,488 (source: nhtsa.gov) 
  • Cancer:  560,453 (source: cdc.gov) 
  • Medical Malpractice: 139,000 (sources: iom.edu & oig.hhs.gov)
Firearm Homicides, there’s a good one.  The convenience store clerk, metro cabbie, or humdrum domestic violence cases barely gain mentions as bylines in the Local section of your town’s newspaper.  Kill a cop, a fireman, a politician, a soldier, or worse (and yes, I have to mention it), a classroom full of Jedi younglings, and the news media whips The Machine into action.  Endless on-site reports, badgering for a new legislative agenda, politicians scrambling for do-gooder face-time on camera, and social networks abuzz with endless text-to-graphic opinions, usually sarcastic.  All of this typically bemoaning a singular act that was largely unpredictable and unpreventable.  The only things these acts are, because they occur with less frequency, are shocking.

Remember, I’m depicting death as a bottom line.  After you’re gone, the cause of death doesn’t matter; people will be angry, people will mourn and suffer, people with eventually take a retrospective and decide whether to forget the why or how, moving on with their lives.  If a percentage of these people actually remain engaged, they might possibly be interested in prevention, and this is currently where my heart resides.  Why?  Honestly, if I had answers to all the world’s ills you’d regularly see my mug on television.  I haven’t the slightest clue to cure malignant neoplasms, or correct the behavior of every errant medical professional, let alone possessing the power to deactivate the world’s triggers (secretly working on this in my lair beneath the Vatican…shhh!).  I do, however, believe that air safety is the beacon example-setter, and that there are advantages to be gained in Cargaea.

Speed Was a Factor

Speaking of sarcasm, I intended to use my book title as a cheeky past-tense insinuation.  Some of my preliminary diligence on the subject of vehicle related deaths revealed that speed was typically not the underlying cause for crashes.  Most emanated from some form of distraction combined with lack of experience and education in defensive maneuvers.  More controversially, one may argue that a speeder is actually paying more attention to their driving environs than: A) Out-of-town businessmen with their GPS-locked eyes, B) Moms with football (or fĂștbol) matches ongoing in the backs of their minivans, C) Every kid on the planet with a smartphone.  Yes, I totally stereotyped the demographics.  If I wrote anything close to "MapQuested vixens...", they'd have my rocks in a sling!  Hopefully, you get my point.  Speed contributes to the severity of damage, not so much the cause.  And please, for God’s sake, do not twist the above statement as some maligned endorsement for speeding!  There is this little matter called THE LAW, and that’s what I’m on about.

Has anyone besides me taken a forensic look at their entire driving life and decided that, with the exception of a few token advances in technology and safety, we—the general public, that is—haven’t really advanced much?  As far as I can tell, we aren’t getting anywhere faster, and we really aren’t getting there much safer either.  Okay, some in the media have been touting less death and injury lately, but correlate that with general economic conditions combined with the price of gasoline, and you’ll quickly determine that less driving equals less death.  Duh!  Sorry, that was a teenager moment.  Here’s a real-world solution:

Battle Lines

My research also determined four main fronts to enhance driving as we currently know it.  Vehicle Technology, Roadway Engineering, Driver Training, and Laws.  Let’s take a quick look at each:

Vehicle design has indeed improved dramatically over the years.  Comforts and control have received marked improvements.  Airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, navigation, crumple zones…there are so many.  If we are so concerned with our own safety, however, why not follow the ultimate in safety-conscious—race cars!  Fire suits, helmets, roll cages.  Ah, too cumbersome to be sure, and unsightly.  I wouldn’t be caught dead in a fire suit.  Especially one with manufacturer’s endorsements.  How about you?  The same goes for helmets.  You can complain about your hair if you wish; I’m bald and it leaves lines.  Roll cages?  Someone explain this to me: Our cars use purposely-collapsible bodies to cushion impacts, whereas NASCAR utilizes fully rigid cages to prevent just that—collapses.  Don’t lecture me about entering your car through its window, damn it; tell me about your safety!  Cars, on the whole, are manufactured according to consumer needs.  It’s a gargantuan business for a profit, adjusting to only what’s needed at the moment.  Don’t expect a Chris Christie news conference any time soon complaining about Republican funding for vehicle design.  Cars didn’t kill anyone on the Jersey shore. 

What about our roads?  Well, I’ve noticed them getting wider over the years to accommodate more traffic.  More use of asphalt instead of concrete too.  I don’t believe they’ve become any more efficient at getting us from Point A to Point B, however.  Okay, one exception: roundabouts.  Thank you, Europe.  We’ll trade you a right on red…or left if you’re nationally-inclined.  I think the only real contribution anyone could make with regard to roadway engineering is solving that nasty little problem called “stopping”.  How much energy and time is lost on the brake pedal?  Again, don’t expect a national outcry.  President Eisenhower’s interstate project was the U.S.’s last great endeavor.  Transportation infrastructure will undoubtedly become a forefront issue once passenger technology demands an upgrade.

Driver Training and Laws.  Now here are two codependent areas where the possibility for wholesale changes exist.  To become a licensed driver in the USA, citizens typically begin training at the age of 15.  Once citizenship is established, to begin this process, all that’s required is passing a laughable physical examination and an arguably skeletal multiple-choice exam.  The “physical” is a cursory glance by the government clerk, and a simple vision test to make sure you’re not completely blind.  In many instances, stating medical requirements for corrective lenses is optional so long as you pass an easy eye exam.  20/40 with a 100-degree field of vision are commonly acceptable parameters.  Interestingly, 20/70 vision is allowable to drive during the day in many states.  There are no tests that I’ve seen to measure one’s abilities with regard to reaction times and physical strength for emergency handling.  Multiple-choice tests, by their very nature, allow those with cloudy memories, or worse, the completely uneducated, a shot at correct answers.  It’s fair to say a percentage of drivers exist on today’s roads out of sheer luck.  To me, that’s plainly unacceptable no matter how small the percentage.  Yet, to be in control of a deadly vehicle on our highways, one only has to be physically “able” kid with a modicum of fortuity and access to one brave, licensed adult to supervise you.  One year later, you don’t even need the adult.  We’ve been doing it this way for around 100 years, and going by crash statistics, we haven’t gotten much better at it.  This, my friends, is the area that we have the power to change—easily, painlessly, and with far-reaching benefits.  I’ll get to The Idea in a moment, but one thing bears a mention first.

Google Thinks We’re Too Stupid

No, I don’t think that’s Google’s premise for their quest in driverless cars, but it’s a macrothought with troublesome consequences.  Let’s leave aside the obvious growing pains that will undoubtedly associate the new technology.  There will be may wrecks, surely.  It’s the deemphasizing of highly-trained drivers that I find disquieting.  I mentioned aviation earlier.  What have they been up to?

It may send your spine tingling to know that most of the actual piloting in today’s aircraft has been computer-automated for many years.  I don’t mean the age-old autopilot for altitude and level flight; I mean automated take-offs and landings.  The amount of physical pilot interaction has decreased as the years march.  If Google or other companies succeed in selling its automated systems, so too shall our own driving interaction.  The difference being, there are currently no initiatives for increased driver training.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), on the other hand, maintains vigilance in pilot training and techniques.  By the FAA’s apparent accountability standards, all air disasters are unacceptable.  Why not then are car wrecks equally unacceptable by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration?  I want to believe they feel that the National Daily Highway Travesty is just as unacceptable as any jet crash, and that they are simply overwhelmed with an impossible task.  Only, I don’t feel the situation’s impossible.   

The Idea

Cut to the chase…  What would it take for car insurance companies to cut their premiums in half?  Along with marked improvements in driver safety and a new industry’s creation, those are my goals—the triple win.  In essence, here is what I propose:

An all-new license class:  The Super License


  • Increased safety: Less death and injury 
  •  Reduced medical needs and costs as result 
  •  Increased privileges:  Some reasonable increases in available speeds on certain designated roadways
  • Vastly reduced insurance costs to offset upfront cost of training and licensure
  • Tax breaks and other incentives for school startups and participating insurance carriers
 How to Get (assumes already licensed):
  • Graduated Age/License Structure:
o   17-20: Super Training (one examination for period)
o   21-25: Super Young Adult (one examination for period)
o   25-45: Super Adult (exam every 5 years)
o   45-60: Super Mature Adult (exam every 3 years)
o   60+: Super Senior (exam every 2 years)

  • 40-hour Academic program:  Classroom and Range
    • Each bracket has distinct physical and academic test requirements to maintain status:
o   Physical:
§  Vision
§  Hearing
§  Tactile
§  Strength
§  Reaction Time
o   Academic:
§  Comprehensive written and oral exams including:
·         Multiple choice, fill in the blank, and stated.
§  Demonstrative physical driving test with rigid field examiner:
·         Advanced course maneuvering skills in a variety of conditions: dry, wet, ice/snow.
·         Obedience of traffic marking, conditions and signage in real world (15 minute drive with examiner on streets and highway)
  • Costs in school tuition and licensing not to exceed half (50%) of typical yearly insurance premium for each individual. 

The Argument

First and foremost, keep in mind that absolutely nothing changes for those happy in their current license and insurance programs.  The Idea creates an entirely new class.
While I envision a wealth of political correctness in The Idea, all benefits included, undoubtedly there are the dark, real-world barriers trolling underneath.  Reality says insurance company executives will automatically raise shields to any utterance of less cash flowing into their coffers.  My angle to them would be:  That’s true, but how much less would be going out?  And, how are you going to handle damage control once the public latches on to this concept?  Buckle up, Mr. Gekko; I’m offering this idea to increase your bottom line and your public image.  Insurers are the gatekeepers to any policy change.  Without the expense benefit, there is no real public incentive.

Speaking of the public, would they actually go for it?  I fully believe they would.  Perhaps no stampede at first, but once savings appear annually to the tune of several hundred dollars, combined with the likely inferiority-motivation psychology, I think most people will eventually see the light.  We can’t solely rely on our good consciouses else The Idea would have hatched long ago.  Sadly, we’ve already experienced school buses full of those little younglings slaughtered on our roads.  It happens with such regular occurrence, we’ve become numb to it.

What Now?

Any budding legislators with no cause to champion?  I’ve outlined the characters and the plot.  Give me an ending!  The story won’t be over without one, and I’ve got another to write.

 More Soon...


T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita