Genesis of Graduated Licensing

Graduated Licensing: Is it what it’s meant to be?

Only a professional who spends between eight and twelve hours per day on the road can appreciate what psycho-social-physical activities it takes to drive a motor vehicle. Only a driving instructor can appreciate what good driving is when bad drivers persist all about.

Graduated Licensing was introduced on April 1st 1994, with full implementation on June 6th. However the new system is not without its’ faults. Within the driver education profession, we are experiencing a temporary work slow down. Unfortunately too many individuals choose to wait six full months after passing their initial written exam before commencing with driver training. Technically they must wait 12 months before being eligible for the G-1 road test, or 8 months with an approved driver’s ed course. The system is endemic with the paradigm that all students have access to a vehicle for practice. In reality this is not the case for most of Ontario’s new permit drivers.

Within the driving profession we keep hearing from the Driving School Association of Ontario (DSAO), or the Road Safety Educator’s Association (RSEA) about the new markets that will simply open up to the driving industry. Specifically, the driver market courses for existing drivers, or more fleet market contracts. But without mandatory driver education programs, legislated by the government, and insurance premium discounts underwritten by insurance companies, the driver education business is simply chasing its tail. Saying that a market exists and reaping the benefits are as we well know, two very different things.

Should we sell more modules, expand current courses to include forty on-road units from fifteen? Can we now do our duty with the motoring public to train properly motoring procedures designed to prevent crashes from occurring? Not simply good enough to pass a Ministry test, but to become a good driver? Well, what does Graduated Licensing change? Will there even be an exit test? Ministry policy official Paul Levine has remained hushed upon the whole matter.

We are told that the G-2 test will include on site practical testing at the John Rhodes Test Center in Brampton, as well as, an off-site additional portion. Imagine the Ministry of Transportation (MOT) testing people on actual roads! Wouldn’t that be unsafe for Ontario’s motoring public? Think of how the poor examiners would react to conditions in reality as opposed to the present virtual reality test. In a recent article in the Toronto Star staff writer Bob Mitchell reported on June 27th that examiners at John Rhodes test center do not always follow rules. Senior Ministry examiner Joan McCullough is reported as calling an unsuccessful teenager “an asshole”. Evo Sepp, another examiner, boasts proudly of his “highest failure rate in the province at more than 60 per cent”, although no official quotas exist.

Ministry official Dan Worthy passed celebrity Harold Ballard even though he “missed one stop sign, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt because he was talking and I was talking”. Ballard was 88 at the time. Worthy was also quoted as being offered a $50 bribe, but does not mention charges for attempting to bribe a government official. The article does not deal with the important questions of examiner upgrading or qualifications, perhaps because there is little or no criteria for either.

The G-2 test is being given a dry run. It promises more comprehensive testing which finally takes a thorough look at Ontario’s drivers. In this forty-minute extended test, we are finally approaching the standards that Europe has set for a roadworthy driving examination.

In England, candidates can expect a one-hour on-road test that includes entering and exiting an “M” series freeway. In France, graduated licensing has been in effect for years. New drivers possess tickets that attach to their beginner’s permit that effectively allows them to gain experience for night, winter conditions, highway experience. A new ticket is allotted for each and then attached to the license. In countries such as England and Ireland, the driver is not allowed to drive gear-shift manual transmission vehicles if they passed on an automatic. This concept seems to make sense but Ontario chooses to stay in the backwaters of driver preparation. In eastern European countries, candidates are required to change a tire, or solve a basic mechanical problem (such as reconnecting the battery terminals) when being tested. In Germany, the examiner sits in the backseat while the driving instructor sits patiently beside the candidate whom is tested in a familiar area where they have usually taken their lessons. Third world driving tests often cost six months’ salary and can be attained easily by bribing the official with $50.

True our present system needed to be changed. With lack of uniformity at any test center, standards have consistently remained inconsistent. You need to drive on the highway in Aurora, simply exit the Metro East test center, three-point turn and back-in for your license in Scarborough. Or try your luck at the John Rhodes “wheel of fortune”, the most fun you’ll have and never have to leave a parking lot!

Examiners have been equally inconsistent with their test marking. Scarborough’s Metro East seems to have a pass rate of 72%, if we subtract 4 for every “x” and 2 for checkmarks. Aurora requires a left turn onto a highway, if you’re inclined to wait for oncoming traffic, and do a proper uphill park, you’ll pass. The John Rhodes test center seems to subtract 40 points before the examiner decides pass or fail. Rhodes requires yet another skill, belonging to the one-way street. But make sure you don’t back up too far coming out (you’ll hit the invisible car) that lives there. On yes, and please remember to SCAN just before you drive over 10 meters of train track which has neither a beginning nor an end. Theatre of the absurd!

Let’s face it folks, the MOT is in business of selling licenses, reality has nothing to do with it. The introduction of Graduated Licensing has been over 20 years in the making. First introduced in Canada by Dr. Patricia Waller (an American) and Dr. Herb Simpson of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) in 1973, it’s origins stem from the Australian and New Zealand heartlands, where the traffic fatality rate dropped 10 – 12% possibly resulting from the introduction of this factor. Skeptics mention that seat belt use also went up in the down under populace, and that drinking and driving incidents decreased that year.

An independent study by a psychologist firm, Engel and Townsend has been retained by the MOT for informational studies on driver response and behavior. Dr. Raymond Engel says his firm has been instrumental in the design of the Commercial Driver License test (CDL) in much of the United States. These dynamic duo are no strangers to the role of behavior and the operation of a motor vehicle. “Today’s test is only 10 minutes at best.” Engel states. “No data has been gathered within the last ten years on the effectiveness of the road test”. The G-2 test will be field tested on 1000 new drivers and data on its effectiveness will be studied. According to Dr. Engel, “quality control has gone unnoticed like 12 years of undetected crime”. Examiners in the past have traditionally not agreed with each other. Most examiners do not look at the driver, instead they look straight ahead when a candidate performs a road test. “The examiner has been like a music critic. He’s not trained to play it, or teach it, but merely give it a review”. Dr. Engel believes some examiners would make poor instructors, and similarly, some instructors, poor examiners.

The perception of the tester and instructor have become intertwined within the student’s psyche. Often the student will ask when the instructor is coming to the car to test them. Or in referring to the instructor, “Oh, he’s my driving examiner”. Unfortunately the candidate knows all too well the differences upon completion of an unsatisfactory road exam. “Quality control, uniformity, and consistency are all needed to be improved”, Engel believes. Because the Graduated Licensing system requires no mandatory education (there is only a four-month off waiting incentive if the student driver opts for driver’s ed), Dr. Engel shares the opinion that the system still falls short of what it should be. You can still get your uncle Edgar to take you to a parking lot, practice a three point turn, try a parallel, go round and round and reasonably pass your driving test. “Somehow magically, you’re going to gain the necessary knowledge required to drive a motor vehicle well”, Engel laments. “We take lessons to learn everything from piano to volleyball….it’s just common sense!”

Although Japanese, Americans and other provinces in Canada are exempted from the system (could property ownership have an influence?), the Graduated Licensing system still has far to go. “Even though a driver knows how to perform the procedures properly, it doesn’t mean they are going to follow these procedures after the fact”, Engel claims.

If Minister Gilles Pouliot and the NDP were serious about “making Ontario’s roads the safest in North America”, as they claim, begin with compulsory driver education by professionals if we are to witness a significant drop in highway fatality.

What bothers this driving instructor is that statistics show that alcohol is involved in 50% of fatal crashes, but what does that say about the other 50% of fatally injured drivers?