The Cultural Impact of Driving Habits
(Driver Magazine, May-June, 2006)
By Steve Levenstein
Driver Magazine

www.thedrivermagazine.ca

Since the first safety features were introduced more than 50 years ago, our cars have become much safer. The same goes for our road networks/.../Why then, have auto accident and fatality rates not fallen at a greater rate?/.../Could it be that the problem is–us?

Wendel Messer is a Canadian author based in Gravenhurst, Ontario. Messer has written a provocative novel titled “The SINK: The Last Days of Driving", in which he warns that drivers in the modern age live in a ‘culture of disrespect’ and an ‘age of rage,’ in which casual neglect and blatant disregard for the rules of the road are the norm.

A former driving instructor, Messer applies satire and humour to illustrate the decline in driving manners that is frustrating attempts to make our roads safer. He notes that “there have always been dummies, idiots and rude people, but it’s only in the last twenty years or so that we’ve witnessed this unprecedented dumbing down, on the roads, of a whole population. The frequency of absurd and insane events taking place on our roads has gone way up”. Human nature may also play a role. “People think they’re good no matter how bad they are,” says Messer.

Sad, but true. Every year, the OPP’s highway safety campaign catches people who are neglecting their driving by reading, eating, applying make-up and of course, babbling away on their cell phones/.../ Neglect is one thing, road rage is quite another. Many theories have been put forth to try and explain the spike in road rage incidents, some of which end up in fatal assaults. The answer is likely a combination of factors. People tend to over-schedule their lives and a slight delay on the road can frustrate even the best laid plans. Courtesy has gone out the window and there is a zero tolerance policy for those who appear to be bad drivers - even though they may simply be obeying the posted speed limits and observing defensive driving techniques. /.../

Based on his experiences as a driver education instructor, Messer has proposed a nine-step overhaul of current driver education methods in order to bring them in line with the realities on the roads and in our society. “Examine the cultural context of driving and deal with influences that impact negatively on driving. We need to examine both the driving culture and the wider culture of which it is part. The impact of the ad culture, role models and gender influence, the addiction to speed, the habit of always being in a hurry, etc.” all needs to be examined. Another of Messer’s recommendations makes perfect sense in that real road tests should be created and implemented. “Test for the skills needed in today's driving environment. Social skills, not (just) skill in handling the vehicle! And continue to make the driving environment - and drivers - more forgiving.”

Is it asking too much for new drivers to learn real-world driving skills in addition to the standard skills that have been taught for decades? Our society as a whole will benefit if new drivers are taught to weed out negative cultural influences and weed in the facts of driving life.

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