By on January 14, 2007

7-8-03222.jpgAllstate is currently blanketing the videosphere with ads touting “accident forgiveness.” Watching Allstate's viscious vérité, my mind drifted to our prodigal curmudgeon and part-time EMT. I wondered how Stephan Wilkinson would categorize the causation of the twisted metal carnage he's encountered: “accidental,” “avoidable” or just “brain dead stupid?” Allstate's willingness to forgive accidents sounds all warm and fuzzy, but given the potential advantages of apportioning blame, is it really such a good idea?

I remember following a speeding (precapitalization) Mini in my Mazda RX4. No sweat. I knew the route so well I could’ve driven it blindfolded. Which was just as well. The two lane blacktop was shrouded in dense fog. I knew Mini man wasn’t local, and so, heading for trouble. Sure enough, he missed the corner entirely, drove straight into the barrier, bounced across the road and smashed into a wall.

No one was hurt. But if they had been, they wouldn’t have had my sympathy. I’m not an anti-speeding zealot (far from it). I simply believe that anyone who drives "faster than conditions allow” (weather, car, road, traffic, etc.) is responsible for what happens next.

Taking that a step further, if the Mini had bounced across the road into the path of another vehicle, I would hope that the car coming from the opposite direction would be aware that drivers in the fog might cross into his or her lane, especially in a tight turn, and be prepared to take evasive action.

At the other end of the spectrum: Mrs. Wilkinson’s accident. As previously chronicled by SW, she was stationed in her proper lane when her car was rear ended by an inattentive SUV driver. Calling that collision, or the Mini's crash, an “accident” is a complete misnomer. Both events were entirely avoidable.

Which brings us back to Allstate’s forgiveness offer. While the ads show horrific incidents involving entirely blameless drivers, the copy expressly states that policy holders’ rates won’t go up “even if it’s your fault.” In that case, shouldn't we be seeing these accidents from the other driver's perspective: the idiot who caused the collision? He's the guy who really needs Allstate's largesse.

Now I could bang on about the wider cultural issue: society’s move away from any clear notion of personal responsibility, towards the vague idea that we should “forgive” people for the “accidental” consequences of their bone-headed behavior. But I want to stick to the automotive realm.

What would stop Allstate from investigating an accident and determining a suitable penalty— or reward— for their policy holder's driving? In other words, if a collision wasn’t your fault, your rate wouldn't increase. If it was, a rate increase and mandatory (and meaningful) driver’s ed would follow.

Of course, the government’s supposed to be responsible for identifying and punishing bad driving. Clearly, in the majority of cases, this isn’t happening. While accident investigation has become a reputable and reliable science, the instigators of avoidable, non-fatal accidents seldom face investigation, suspension or remedial education.

Even more worrying, police officers are happy to point speed guns at hapless motorists driving well within the realm of safety (no matter what the speed limit sign says), but seem strangely reticent to ticket motorists for sloppy and/or inattentive driving. Time and again, I've seen drivers commit moving violations right in front of a police cruiser without any reaction whatsoever from the officers [who may or may not be] watching. 

According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. traffic deaths reached a 15-year high in 2005: 43,200. Obviously, the stat must be seen in context of the huge increase in total passenger miles traveled. But the fact remains that many of these accidents were caused by motorists who lacked the skills needed to avoid them. Or, to put it more bluntly, crap driving. Someone somewhere should be held accountable.

The driver is, obviously, first. I reckon any state that doesn’t permanently ban a driver convicted of vehicular homicide is criminally negligent for any later injury. Next up: the people responsible for training these lousy drivers. Driver’s ed needs to be state-regulated, with a pass rate no higher than 60%.

Then the licensing authorities must answer for their actions. Then, perhaps, law enforcement should be taken to task (for not catching the killer drivers earlier). Then, maybe, the legal system should face inquiry (how many times have these murderous drivers been “in the system”?).

For their part, the insurance industry has decided to stay above the fray and paint themselves as the safe driver’s friend. And yet they’re more than willing to "forgive" the ones that aren’t safe. In truth, Allstate's no-fault forgiveness policy tells potential customers “Never mind that you drive like an idiot and could kill someone. Let's just call your smash a Mulligan." That’s Allstate’s stand. What’s yours?

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85 Comments on “The Accidental Motorist: No Fault, No Harm?...”

  • avatar

    I don’t understand this push to change the definition of “accident”. An accident is anything that happens without intent, regardless of how avoidable or stupid it was.

    On average, a bad driver will get into more accidents, sure. But a driver who’s generally attentive and has no pattern of bad driving that should be punished, will still have the ocassional bad day and screw up and hit someone. I guess I don’t buy the argument that every crash is caused by an idiot.

    I was once an idiot though, and crashed into a gate. I was going too fast for conditions (downhill), because I didn’t know the concept of brake fade. That’s something worth forcibly correcting, and indeed that’s when I started reading about how cars work and became a car nut. But again, I don’t think all accidents are due to dangerous ignorance (like mine) or aggressive driving. Some just happen, and those who’ve had that kind are the people that Allstate’s ad will appeal to.

    In the end, Allstate will charge all the money it needs to, and it won’t really make a difference. Their base rate will probably be higher, so it’ll be like buying insurance for your car insurance premium. Those who are scared of having an at-fault will like having that option.

  • avatar

    I’m not saying all accident are avoidable. I’m saying we– the governmenta agencies involved, insurance companies, us– should red flag accidents caused by dangerous or exceptionally stupid driving and take action to prevent a repeat performance.

    Yes, insurance companies penalize people who make many claims, but that’s a blunt instrument that can catch a truly unlucky driver as easily as someone who simply should not be on the road.

    For example, when TTAC writer Frank Williams got smashed into (no fault of his own), Allstate simply dropped him.

    This system needs tweaking, from stem to stern.

  • avatar

    One point to note here: Allstate’s accident forgiveness is nothing but a supplemental policy rider, for all intents and purposes.

    Yep, that’s right–it costs extra. The ads are a bit misleading in that regard. I also checked into the deductible rewards (“Hey, I’ve never had an accident, they should reduce my deductible to zero!”), which is similarly marketed. Also an extra charge, even though it would seem incredibly mutually beneficial to both insurer AND insured to reward safe driving…and not make you pay extra for good performance. The existing “safe driver” discounts are laughably small recompense for a person who rarely, if ever, costs the insurance company a claim settlement.

    You get what you pay for; or in the case of casinos and insurance, usually far less than you pay for over the long run.

  • avatar

    There is one problem which is the way anyone can get a license, I remember how I got my license here in NYC, it was for a motorcycle, I trained myself for a few weeks in an empty parking lot, and then I load the bike onto a pickup truck and drove with a friend to the test site.
    Once there, the tester ask me to do two 8ts, one left one right, then he got into the truck with my friend following me on a two “around the block” with no traffic and no traffic lights, he then hand me my license, 5 min!
    And I asked myself, is that all? Am I qualified to climb on a GSXR750 now?
    Same way with cars, my son road test was 6 min (I used a stop watch), I was amazed again how easy it is to get a license!
    I remember back in 1978 when I got my first license for a car, it was in Israel, I was required to take a minimum of 15 lessons one hour each on a stick shift, I’m not saying that it was perfect, but it’s defiantly better, besides, what made me a real good driver in a car was the time I spend on a bike, never got on it when I did not feel 100%, never pass a green light without slowing down checking the intersection and so on.
    I agree that lack of training and stupidity lead to most accidents, not all.

  • avatar

    I think the system needs REPLACING from stem to stern, Robert.

    As mentioned above, a decent driver’s education and RE-education program for all drivers (the state must be useful for SOMETHING after all) with no more than 60% pass rate.
    Why 60%? Well I have lived in the UK where competency is either proved (as well as can be done in a human society) by a stringient system of driver education and a strict enough test that only 56% of testees pass (and only 70% of retestees pass). Look at the effect this has. The death rate is about 1/2 of the US, despite far tougher driving conditions (most Americans would roll up and cry rather than continue driving on B-roads of the UK with passing places, tiny lanes, high speeds, curves, and big trucks coming the opposite way, for example).

    Next, the insurance industry, of which I am an employee.

    Virtually every state requires drivers to have insurance for liability and medical insurance for themselves (or personal injury protection in no-fault states). Virtually all vehicles require fuel, which is taxed, to motor. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that a lot of people buy 30 days of insurance, go get license tags then let the insurance drop. Some states actually keep track and try to stop the practice. Instead of that, how about adding fuel taxes and placing these funds into a pool so that every driver in the state who can show they have purchased fuel (this would entail actually keeping receipts) has the basic minimum liability and medical coverage while driving?

    Overall this would lower costs because this would mean responsible drivers would not have to buy uninsured motorists. There wouldn’t be any, if this system were adopted in all states.

    Now, for those of us responsible enough to say “well, the 20,000 per person, 40,000 per accident liability is in no way adequate enough to protect my assets if I have an accident” the current insurance industry would be quite happy and willing to sell additional insurance, which in reality, any home-owner should have at levels of 100,000 / 300,000 (in other words, it would no longer start at zero sum, but at the minimum level of the given state, such as 20,000 / 40,000).

    Overall, costs should be lower for the responsible members of public (especially those who purchase economical vehicles), and higher for the irresponsible (those who used to be able to get away with paying virtually nothing and driving illegally without insurance).

    Another possibility is to get rid of no-fault insurance, as Colorado recently did. Put very broadly and simply, the initial idea of no-fault was to reduce costs by reducing the amount of lawsuits, which largely lined the pockets of sharp lawyers – but it has been decades and the sharp lawyers have essentially managed to push their way back into the system again, pushing up costs. Therefore, in a vast simplification, the no-fault system could be seen as no longer beneficial. (No-fault means your insurance takes care of your medical needs, the other guy’s insurance takes care of his medical needs, very broadly, and thus reduces the scope for huge lawsuits). An oversimplification, but at least it give an idea of what the object of the exercise was that many years ago when the concept was adopted by so many states.

    Just a quick story to give you all an idea of how incompetently BAD most American drivers have become.
    I was pre-instructing my second son in driving when he was 15, with me behind the wheel, and we noted 3 cars in a small pack going the other way, on an otherwise empty US31 3-lane (in that spot). We had one lane, the other side had 2. The first hapless driver was being tailgated, and I’m talking menacingly close, by a cop. The cop was being tailgated just as dangerously by a civilian. Now, which of those, #2 or #3 car, was the most inept and should have his license removed permanently? In my opinion, BOTH. In fact, I consider the pandemic, selfish and dangerous tailgating in the US to be threatening bodily harm with a deadly instrument, but try telling that to a cop, despite the fact that every state has a law against driving too closely.

    And that’s just one example of the totally inept driving I see every day.

    When I went to England and Scotland 18 months ago, I noted that I only probably swore at about half dozen other drivers for their stupid moves placing my family and I in danger. By God, I probably swear that much just in a 15 mile journey to work every morning, here in Michigan.

  • avatar

    My stand is that these ads make me crazy. Yet another example of our no-responsibility culture, in my view. I wonder if Allstate’s agents are being overrun by every mouth breathing moron who can barely keep their cars between the painted lines.

    Every time I see these ads I take the chance to rant to my kids: “There’s no such things as accidents, only carelessness.”

  • avatar

    I agree with the entire article wholeheartedly… but it isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Cars – selling them, maintaining them, filling them up with gas – is a big industry worth a lot of money. Anything that reduces accessibility or availability of the money-making medium is going to encounter serious opposition on several levels from various industries.

    It’s a shame, but it’s in insurance, oil, car and accessory companies’ best interest to have as many drivers out there as possible, as long as they don’t kill themselves faster than they reproduce.

  • avatar

    As a full time paramedic, I get to see a lot of automotive carnage. Near as I can tell, most Motor Vehicle Collisions (MVCs) happen when you combine two or more of the following:

    -Dumb driver in car “A”

    -Dumb driver in car “B”



    Unfortunately, there is simply no way to completely dispel these. They are, however easy to reduce with improved driver training.

    One thing we must avoid, however, is counting on the insurance companies to promote safety. Yes, it is in their best interests, but profit is always the underlying motive.

    The most effective safety equipment in the car is, always has been, and always will be, the driver. How about we spend more resources correcting driver behaviour before they get in a wreck?

  • avatar


    How about some ideas on how we could improve driver training?

    If TTAC commentators can come up with a coherent plan for strengthening drivers’ ed, we could lobby for same.

    It’s time that concerned drivers (the majority) wrested control of this life and death issue from the special interests groups you’ve named.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Making the public roads safe by punishing errant drivers is the lawgivers province. The courts can monetarily penalize a motorist demonstrably lacking the skills and mindset to drive, removing his license if appropriate. Insurers should be financially responsible for the risk they accept.

    No fault insurance is not the panacea. As practiced here damaged vehicles are taken to a insurance cartel operated reporting center where fault is determined administratively. Most are assessed on a 50/50 basis. The innocent motorist’s premiums rise regardless making auto insurance a truly risk-free business.

    Auto insurance is a racket. Insurers always claim they are losing money but, in apparent defiance of the principles of economics, never seem to go out of business.

  • avatar

    carlisimo:“But again, I don’t think all accidents are due to dangerous ignorance (like mine) or aggressive driving. Some just happen…”

    No offense to carlisimo, but those last three words, sadly, sum it for the vast majority. It’s unfortunately a common mindset that most things are “beyond our control”. (I’m not referring to fate here)

    My dad taught me that almost everything is in our control, based on the decisions we make (consciously or unconsciously). Once again, I’m not talking about fate vs. free will.

    Acts of nature are beyond our control (tornado, hurricane, etc), yes, but my point is this: The mentality of “there was nothing I could do” needs to change to “what could I have done differently?”

    Taking responsibility for one’s own actions–imagine if that was the standard for everyone.

  • avatar

    “Robert Farago:
    January 14th, 2007 at 10:17 am

    How about some ideas on how we could improve driver training?

    If TTAC commentators can come up with a coherent plan for strengthening drivers’ ed, we could lobby for same.

    It’s time that concerned drivers (the majority) wrested control of this life and death issue from the special interests groups you’ve named.”

    One thing I would like to see (and admittedly this is small) is that all drivers be required to know how to operate a stick shift. My sons will probably never buy car or truck with a stick, but I have made sure they know the basics. I took my 16 year old out two years ago to an empty parking lot with my old beater pickup so he could get an idea of what it was like. Last summer we went in the 4 banger 5 spd commuter car to large truck stop and did the same thing – with the 18 wheelers present. Great for teaching situational awareness! He will be getting his license this spring (I’m learning to pray all over again!).

  • avatar

    There is no such thing as being too defensive [at least as far as driving is concerned]. Waiting a few seconds even after the light turns green and crossing an intersection slowly instead of blindly bolting through, sticking to the golden rule – pass only to the left, braking prematurely (especially in adverse weather conditions), checking for blind spots, the list just goes on and on. It is most often the simple things that are neglected.

    What can we do about this? Right now – the situation looks bleak. The tech boom is taking over our motorists, as more people than ever are seen fiddling with their little gadgets than firmly gripping the wheel with both hands. Not to mention the fact that absolutely anyone can get a license – especially foreigners. As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong) certain states allow for an exchange of licenses from drivers out of the country – ex: If you have driven in India, you may be eligible (in some places in the US) to simply drop into the local DMV, and trade your Indian license in for your local states’. Ridiculous. Oh, and I almost forgot, is it just me or are car manufacturers handing out more and more capable cars to the general public, most of which does not know how to correct a simple skid? Torquey motors, rear wheel drive, vehicle stability control systems, and that ‘tight’ steering give every idiot on the road the “I could take Schumacher” feeling.

    Finally, I’d like to thank the parents. Thanks alot guys – you’ve set some great examples for our kids to follow. Steering with your knees, driving meaningless sport utes, and speeding while talking on the phone/yelling at your kids/sipping your tall latte/getting that make up done correctly/and even showing off a few times on the road – it’s no wonder the younger generation drives like this.

  • avatar

    I think the improvements to the system should begin with more driver education. Here in Florida anyone with a pulse can get a license. The test is laughably easy and the ‘driving’ test in the DMV parking lot is almost comic compared to the training most European states mandate.

    Driving is ultimately about judgment so how can we expect drivers to make sound judgments if they aren’t trained?

  • avatar

    Let’s be specific.

    How would you change driver’s ed.? What kind of licensing procedure would you like to see?

  • avatar

    Let’s talk about the reasons WHY drivers ed seems to be dumbing down as time passes, at least in the US. A couple ideas:

    As mentioned above, there are plenty of people in the oil and insurance lobbies that want as many drivers on the road as possible. That could be remedied with a consumption tax (eg Fair Tax), but that’s a pretty serious societal overhaul.

    Speaking for the lack of basic auto inspections in Alabama and many other states (around 15 at my last count), the “underclasses” feel this is a tax on their privilege…er RIGHT to drive a car. If they can’t drive, they can’t get to work, and how dare you elitist lawmakers say otherwise?

    These days, PE coaches (usually the drivers ed teachers) can issue licenses DIRECTLY without even the old requisite trip to the DMV to wait in line. Does that strike anyone as a little scary? When light aircraft pilots are required to take refreshers every 6-48 months (depending on rating), while posing relatively little risk to the world; drivers can get a license ONE time and use it for the rest of their life, putting others within a few feet or inches of death thousands of times per day. We just need to get our priorities straight. Guns and planes=bad! Cars=good? I come from a family of private pilots, and all of them will tell you that the amount of judgment calls in cars far exceed basically all flying scenarios (even if bad judgment in cars usually have less severe consequences).

    Every four years, full retesting of drivers; and safety inspections of all registered vehicles annually (subsidized for those who can’t afford it, including low-cost repairs). While catastrophic mechanical failures are rare in cars, they should be considered unacceptable–there are already enough unknowns.

  • avatar

    While there is no known cure for stupid, it is possible to offset the condition with education. In the days of my youth, most high schools had a driver education program, the incentive for which was reduced insurance rates for graduates. Those programs seem to have died out with one of the fuel crises but I see no good reason why they could not be brought back. Granted, there’s not much time left in the school day after the indoctrination with all of the mandated social claptrap, but merely introducing youngsters to the concept of the turn signal and rear view mirrors would be useful.

  • avatar

    Every time I see one of the aforementioned Allstate ads, it simply reminds me that the last time I saw a report ranking the major insurance companies, Allstate was (and I’m sure still is) one of the absolute worst for claims settlement (Can you say Katrina?). Ya know, the sun isn’t aligned with the proper planets and the moon is in Uranus. They can make all the promises and spew all the TV bullshit they want, but Allstate coverage is still worthless.

    I have to join the chorus when it comes to licensing drivers and police enforcement of traffic laws (and I’m NOT talking about radar/speed traps).

  • avatar

    For those of you who think all accidents are because of carelessness: I can prove you wrong.

    Just a few weeks ago my uncle got in an accident that was not because of carelessness. One of the front tire’s (left, I think) sidewall broke, causing the car to spin. And, they were new tires, so the sidewall couldn’t have broken because the tire was very old. Thankfully, there were no cars, trees, or walls around him to spin into, and no one got injured.

    If he had hit another car, or a tree whose responsibility would it be? Definitely not my uncle’s. It was a mechanical problem. I believe in cases like this, there should be “accident forgiveness.”

    I do agree with the article, but not entirely. There should be accident forgiveness for accidents caused by mechanical problems. But, there should not be accident forgiveness for accidents that could be prevented or are caused by carelessness, drunk driving etc.

    Also, if there are multiple accidents caused by mechanical problems with the same part, then the manufacturers of the part need to take responsibility to recall all cars with that part, and to find and put in a replacement. If it’s an aftermarket part that is sold in stores, they also need to make sure it gets taken off shelves and no more are sold.

    Most of the other posts mostly say what I think about accidents that are the drivers responsibility.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    How about a clarification of terms? “Accidents” include ALL unintended consequences. However, many if not most unhappy accidents are the result of negligence which runs along a continuim from sloppy, lazy and inept, to the other extreme of abject recklessness. Obviously, some forms involve greater culpability than others, but all contribute in their way to the “accident”.

  • avatar

    Robert – for starters there must be mandatory instruction both on public roads (how to park, merge etc) as well as on a closed course for car control under various conditions. Particularly for young drivers, it is essential to understand how road conditions effect safety. Its amazing how the feeling of losing control of your car can reduce feelings of immortality.

    I would say about 20 hours of instructions with a real instructor followed by a real test.

    Also when people choose drivers ed when keeping a speeding ticket from their driving record it should be real instructor led education rather than the on-line exercise in time wasting that it has become.

    Yes it would make getting your license more expensive but 45,000 Americans die on the road each year and we pay staggering amounts in insurance so I’d say its worth the investment.

  • avatar

    to hanlod – your uncle should have those tires inspected by his insurance company. some unscrupulous places actually take old tires and glue new rubber to the tread and sell them as new. the exact same thing you describe happened to an ex of mine and that was the case with her.

    As for the Allstate commercials, although the sentiment is retarded, it’s just a marketing gimmick. When I priced insurance last time, Allstate’s was literally over 2 times higher than Geico for the exact same coverage. They sell not on price, but on this sort of feel-good bs. “Yeah we’ll forgive an accident, because we already charged you for it.”

  • avatar

    Most of the solutions presented here try to put the onus on the government to solve this problem for us. Unfortunately that is completely the wrong approach.

    Like it or not, the government does not have a vested interest in making the roads safer, nor the drivers better. They have a vested interest in improving the economy overall. They can do that by making sure that the vast majority of their citizens can legally drive and can therefor have jobs far from home, buy cars, buy gas and generally spend more money.

    With that said, who _does_ have a vested interest in improving drivers? Insurance agencies. Yes, I think that the people responsible for licensing standards should be the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. I certainly trust their safety ratings for vehicles more than the governments, so I’d also sooner trust their driver safety ratings.

    How would I specifically improve driver’s ed? Well, as a recently licensed motorcyclist, I think one way would be add at least a major component of the education that is focussed on skills rather than on rules of the road. 8 years ago when I took high school drivers’ ed, I don’t remember being actively engaged in a single intensive skill practice session. Not one. No skid training. No emergency braking training. No evasive swerve training. No cornering training. How exactly do they expect to create competent drivers by teaching the rules and laws that tell you how not to drive, but never actually telling you how _to_ drive?

    Drivers’ education should take place half in a closed course with a skid pad, braking lanes, swerving practice, 90 degree corners, 45 degree corners, 135 degree corners, curves and probably an autocross type course. Standards should then be set for autocross completion, emergency braking distance and other aspects of driver skill. Why should skills training be limited to racers and motorcyclists?

    Finally (this is getting long), I think that using the term accident only to discuss collisions involving equipment failure or other unavoidable situations and _not_ collisions where fault can be assigned makes sense. Again, as a new motorcyclist, I’ve learned to drive _very_ defensively, because most of the drivers out there don’t see me. Regardless of how many wheels you are riding on, the assumption that nobody can see you and that they will all make exactly the worst movement that their vehicle is capable of at any time is a good defensive driving technique. What would you do? Assuming that they don’t see you and that they make that worst movement, will you come out of it unscathed? If not, then you are driving in the wrong position.

  • avatar

    Would you forgive this lady? (Sorry about the sexist caption but it’s funny.)

  • avatar

    The USA could for once take example to the European model and adopt drivers ed. classes and stringent testing. All Federal controlled… Besides most cities in the USA are build around cars, so people WILL by necessity drive and get their license or ride the bus! So no worries for oil companies.
    That is income for the state, insurance for the insurance companies (European insurance companies thrive).
    It a four-ways win!

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Those who feel driver training should be made more stringent are wasting their time. Not gonna happen, as Bush the First would have said. Those of us who have the faintest interest in driving technique probably number two percent of all U. S. motorists, absolute max. The other 98 percent will not in a million years accept the whinings of our tiny claque of elitists. You can complain about that all you want, but the political reality is that there are WAY too many special-interest groups and lobbies, from AARP on down, to ever accept more stringent driver-licensing requirements.

    The one exception might be teenagers, since they don’t have a lobby. Which is all to the good, but grandma is still going to be driving into her 90s, the guy on the cellphone will never have to hang it up, and the woman who knows no more about brakes than that the pedal does something under the floor will never be required to learn more.

    I’ve said it before (in a ttac editorial, indeed), but I’ll say it again: the only answer is increasingly autonomous automobiles. The technology already exists, for the most part: why should we depend on the driver to stop at the red light, or to stay on his side of the road when the car can be configured to do it for them? Seems pretty simple–and inevitable–to me.

    And again, only two percent of us will protest. The other 98 percent will be delighted to have everything automated. Remember that for them, the fun of driving is roughly akin to the joy of dishwashing.

  • avatar

    Robert Farago:

    I suspect we’d be more likely to reduce auto accidents by aggressive enforcement in the areas of DUI, speeding, and running red lights than by anything else. You express concern that the police hesitate to ticket for inattentive or sloppy driving; however, “inattentive” and “sloppy” are challenging to prove in court.

    Your suggestion that driver’s ed should have a pass rate of no higher than 60 percent is interesting but needs some clarification. Are you saying that each driver’s ed class should pass no more than 60 percent of its students or are you talking about school-wide, city-wide or statewide percentages? Also, wouldn’t an automatic failure rate of at least 40 percent arbitrarily prevent some perfectly qualified young folks from driving?

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    My parents stumped for me to take a defensive driving course in addition to famly lessons (probably a good idea, as I have a clear memory of my father shouting, “Accelerate! You’re entering a freeway, not a bloody convent!”). This included theory as well as practice, covered emergency stopping, lane changes, different weather conditions…basically the whole nine yards. I still find myself unconsciously following some of the principles taught there (watching the front wheel placement of cars I’m passing, etc.).

    The best thing that could happen for improved driver education is an accreditation process for driving schools and a minimum amount of professional instruction. Up here, we also have graduated licensing, which seems to work quite well.

  • avatar

    Rather than make better training or limit licenses or any idea that makes it harder for people to drive, I propose that we punish people when their dumb actions result in an accident.

    As mentioned earlier in the comments, you’ll never be able to limit people’s access to cars because it’s too big of a business and the lobbies will stop every attempt. Even insurance companies like more drivers, since insurance is mandatory.

    I say that we set up severe punishments when you find the driver at fault for an accident. How would this work? Well first need to have competent accident investigators (like real auto engineers) who find out who really did screw up or if it was a truley no-fault natural cause (tree fell in front of you) or mechanical cause (new tire just blew out), etc. Did you T-Bone someone because you ran a red lit? That’s bad for you. Did you get rear ended because the other guy was tailgating? That’s bad for them.

    Once fault is determined, you need to have a big fine. Large enough that it’s a real deterrent. You don’t get your license back until you’ve payed that fine and you’ve waited some inconvenient amount of time (years!), jail time only in the most extreme cases. I also wouldn’t be opposed to mandatory retesting and retraining to get your license back also with a large application fee to pay for good testing and training. Use this large fine to pay for the competent investigators. Regular government employees rubber stamping 50/50 fault will not do.

    This way you actually punish the bad ones who have proven themselves bad. Most of us on here are of the attitude that speed is not inherently unsafe so we think that cops shouldn’t be ticketing speed, but rather unsafe driving. I agree, but defining unsafe driving can be hard. So it’s better to punish the bad action than it is the potential for a bad thing to happen.

    I hope my next comment doesn’t start anything bad, but I also think we need to get rid of drunk driving laws, they’re just like speeding. It’s easy to make a definition of what drunk is and then just go trolling for it. A better way to solve the problem, would be to fit it into my earlier solution. If you’re in an accident while drunk then the punishments are doubled.

  • avatar

    This all sounds like a powerful argument for better public transportation. If we had better public transportation, then the people that can’t drive could be taken out of the drivers’ seat without ending the rest of their lives altogether.

    As it is now, people who have their licenses “revoked” often get permission to drive anyway. How insanely insane is that?

  • avatar

    I stole this idea from miked (we typed and posted at the same appx. time): Eliminate all speeding tickets and moving violations–these can always be contested in a your-word-against-the-cop situation. Fine a driver $20,000 for any accident caused in which the driver is at fault. Blown sidewalls on a new tire doesn’t count. Crashing and burning because of an iPod–your fault. By fining accidents so greatly, people will regulate their own speed and handling accordingly. Show sob stories of how a kid couldn’t go to college because of a driving fine, etc. Financial hardship will be more likely to sink into an immmortal 17YO’s head than dismemberment videos.

    As an aside, just last weekend I was the first on the scene of an iPod near-fatality. 60mph, airborne, tree, no seatbelt, fire–’nuff said. I stayed until the firemen and police were done so that I could burn it into my memory so that my iPod never kills me.

    As for a solution we could lobby for: The insurance companies don’t want to remove any drivers from the roads because they would lose money. The insurance companies should participate in driver education startup and refresher courses. Make car insurance prohibitively expensive ($10,000 per year) for driving without skills. I know there is a conflict of interest in having the insurance companies both run the driver education centers and charging for insurance, but TTAC readers seem to be sharp enough to work that out.

    Another solution would be to somehow turn car accidents into acts of violence in the “minds” of Americans. Half-filled 5 gallon buckets, swimming pools, and car accidents each kill more children per year than firearms–yet which one is the “bad” one? If you can make getting a driver’s license as hard as getting a concealed carry permit in California, we might be OK. Treat people that cause accidents the way the justice system treats those possessing loaded firearms without signed permission slips (no field trip; no gun). We can work on fixing gun laws later–other people in cars scare me way more than the possibility of people walking around armed. Mothers Against Reckless Driving? MARD? Mothers and Insurance Licensing Foundation? mmmm…MILF

    Last ditch effort–use public school health classes to teach that inattentive driving results in pregnancy.

    If we can’t fix driver education and gun control, then i’m lobbying for bucket control. After all, it’ll be *for the children*

  • avatar

    [quote]How would you change driver’s ed.? What kind of licensing procedure would you like to see?[/quote]

    To make it short, adopt the licensing and penalty system used in Germany.
    The great majority of US drivers are incredibly incompetent, and while they will argue otherwise they know it. Their answer is to drive monster SUV’s and trucks so the greatest burden is carried bi “the other person”.
    However there will never be a proper licensing system in the US for a number of reasons. The minute there is a significant test failure rate by one demographic segment or another the lawyers come into play, and under the current system most everyone profits except of course the citizen.

  • avatar

    For those of you who think all accidents are because of carelessness: I can prove you wrong.

    Just a few weeks ago my uncle got in an accident that was not because of carelessness. One of the front tire’s (left, I think) sidewall broke, causing the car to spin.

    Well, I wasn’t there so it’s hard to say, but the concept of car control shouldn’t be voodoo to drivers.

    Sure there are faulty products and junk cars, but the idea that a tyre failure at the typical US speeds results in loss of car control on a straight and open highway is strictly a US lawyers idea.

  • avatar

    I agree with many above that the standards for driver’s ed classes are very low. When I went through mine I think about half the people in the class showed up half drunk and fell asleep the whole time, but in the end of course they all passed with flying colors. It’s like your old high school gym class, if you show up you get an A+.

    On a similar note, I consider myself a much better than average day-to-day driver, but I’d like to get some experience beyond that by attending a professional or high performance driving school. I know there are a million of them around, so does anybody have any suggestions for one that will teach basic performance, handling and cornering skills?

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Best drivers in the world ? Gotta be the Germans.

    Forget to signal a lane change and those people will drag you from your car and beat your sorry ass.

    Drunk driving ? You don’t want to know.

  • avatar

    When I was on vacation several years ago in Asia, we met some Australians. One of them had a company truck that was involved in an accident due to drunken driver employee. Peter told me that his insurance was voided if the driver was under the influence. His insurance covered any liability for the other driver but not his. National health care covered any injury for the drunken driver. Peter had to replace the $100K truck at his own expense.
    I am surprised that the insurance companies haven’t taken similar actions in this country. Probably something we have to look forward to in the US.

  • avatar

    I’ve said it before (in a ttac editorial, indeed), but I’ll say it again: the only answer is increasingly autonomous automobiles.

    Your absolutely right Stephan.

    In order for this to take off, autonomous systems will need to be installed OEM.

    I’ve thought about building an “drive assist” add on kit w/ a friend who works at iRobot, but in order to really work well the system would not only require integration with the drive by wire components, but also the navigation system.

    I’m betting both of these systems are unfriendly to software developers.

  • avatar

    The only one who figured out what Allstate is doing is Ash78 in his original post. In focus groups, Allstate discovered that many drivers are paranoid about their insurance being cancelled if they ever have an accident, even if it’s not their fault. So people are willing to pay a higher premium for the peace of mind that they won’t get cancelled.

    This has been enormously successful for Allstate, because not only can they charge higher premiums, but by an overwhelming margin, the people who sign up for this policy are good drivers.

  • avatar

    Modern Driver’s Ed is a complete joke. Having just taken it about two years ago I can remember vividly how easy it was. I was the valedictorian of it, and did absolutely zero work. Some of my friends just cheated through the whole thing. I have friends who went to Driver’s Ed drunk, high, and I know of two who went while on shrooms and still passed easily. What kind of drivers do you think we have on the roads if you can go through Driver’s Ed while tripping balls on shrooms?

  • avatar

    How about having people pass a difficult simulator test in order to prove car-control ability? It doesn’t have to be too long, and it can be standardized – but “get the Corvette around Road Atlanta in under 1:40 with no crashes or significant off course excursions” would expose you to a difficult set of conditions near, at, and over the limit in the same time that the current test takes. The video-game hardware and software is almost up to the task right now – Forza is very close. The next generation will be there.

    We could also do a more difficult street test on the simulator. In real life, it’s too risky to have every kid have to dodge someone who’s cutting it close on a pass, or stop a car with a blown tire, or get a slewing car back under control in the snow, during the driver’s test; on a simulator, the worst possible result is a resounding crash through the headphones and the little “FAIL” jingle playing afterwards.

    You wouldn’t even need an examiner for this section.

    You would go in, sit down, enter your permit number, buckle yourself into the seat, do a quick run through of the controls, hit the start button, and do a 3-lap burst to get under the time limit.

    Insurers could offer discounts (maybe even state-subsidized for the first couple years until data on how much it reduces the accident rate) for better scores.

    This would one of the traits of 16-year-olds for public benefit. Teenagers are competitive, and if you give them a print out of their speed across the lap and their overall time, they’ll compete to see if they can do better than their friends…

  • avatar

    Although I agree with the article, I must point out that in the US you NEED a car. To work, to shop, to live. All of our talk is pointless if most people in the US simply can’t live without a car. In Europe and Japan the standards are stricter by far because they can be – they have good public transportation and walkable cities. You don’t have to drive to live. In the US it’s very hard to get around without a car outside of a few cities like Boston and New York.

    For all the people who are talking about making in harder to get a license, try walking or taking public transport for everything for a few days.

    All the same, something is pathetically wrong when the number of deaths goes up but cars supposedly get safer every year.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    In fact the number of deaths isn’t going up at all–holding steady at 42,000 annually, if memory serves–while the number of cars and distractions, and both average speed and miles traveled, climbs rapidly. So fatalities per vehicle mile–the only relevant criterion–are dropping. Cars are indeed getting safer. And as they increasingly take over the functions that humans have proven too lazy to oversee themselves, they will get safer still.

    The current issue of Forbes has an article on telematics–automated car-to-car communication–that concludes, “These networks [being developed by GM and others] are too cheap and useful not to become mandatory. Will accident-free roads follow? Keep your seat belt on.”

    That last sentence is a classic, cheap, lazy magazine writer’s trick (been there, done that…) to avoid having to say anything of substance, but the gist of the article is that yes, the strong potential for near-accident free highways (if not back roads and streets, and people will stillc rash in their own driveways, of course) exists.

    It’s a lot more sensible than handing out licenses based on lap time in a simulator.

  • avatar

    To me, the argument of: “You can’t raise driving standards in North America, because North Americans need to drive in order to make a livelihood” just doesn’t hold water. In the same way that North Americans aren’t inherently stupider than, say, Germans for example, we’re not less competent drivers by nature either. If we raise the levels of driver training so that it’s not a complete joke as it is now, people will still pass their exams, and be much safer, more aware drivers. Just like if we set the bar higher for schooling systems, we’d actually ensure that once someone has a high school degree, they’re actually functionally literate and able to think in a logical manner.

    It’s a matter of nurture, not nature. The problem is that the education systems are a joke.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Higher mandatory deductable for “accidents” that are your fault. Not directly comperable, but higher deductables has shown to bring down medical costs. Make people feel the pain of their irresponsibility. Have the deductable be a percentage of what the insurance pays out. Nothing like partial self-insurance to wake you up some.

  • avatar

    I think that the problem goes back to grossly inadequate deiver training. Yep, driving in Germany is different because training is far more rigorous…but also, penalties are stiff. For example, on an unlimited autobahn, if you are in an accident over 85mph, your insurance may not apply and you will have to fight a careless or dangerous driving charge.

    I am not optimistic about North America,which combines two mutually exclusive views among drivers:

    (1) I OWN THE ROAD..because I drive at the speed limit and therefore I am within my right to block traffic even in the passing lane

    (2) GET OUT OF THE WAY or I will drive right up on your tail, swing rapidly into your blind spot and flip you the bird as I roar past.

    Neither of these seems to contemplate the idea of sharing the road.

    I strongly agree with your comment on driving within the conditions. Each winter in Canada we have the opening SUV ballet on the first day or two of snow as they barrel down the highway assuming that AWD is a barrier to the laws of physics.

    However, unless it is harder to get a permit, and there is more emphasis on driving behavior nothing will happen. Its easier and far more lucrative to park the Crown Vic and generate revenue with the laser gun…easy as falling off a log.

  • avatar

    I have allstate and my renewal came last week… some such nonsense about the first $500 they pay out wont raise my rates. Seriously… $500? Gee whiz aren’t I a lucky feller. What sort of “accident” costs less than $500? Seriously I’d be better off keeping a conspicuous $500 roll & a waiver/disclaimer document in the glovebox for bribery and denial of knowledge purposes at the scene of an “accident”.

    Its all BS to me… not once in my 10 years of driving have I ever made a claim on my insurance. So what do I really care if they are going to toss me a bone and overlook $500 or fault or whatever… okay I might care if they overlooked vehicular manslaughter, but short of that I’m having a hard time bringing myself to care.

    Funniest thing I’ve read today… thanks NickNick. “Last ditch effort–use public school health classes to teach that inattentive driving results in pregnancy.”

  • avatar

    If this is true, then there’s no hope for America’s roads:

    The average IQ is 100, and half the people you drive near are below that.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    NICKNICK: maybe not half, because some of them will have disabled or killed themselves before they get on the road, or shortly thereafter.

  • avatar

    Adamatari has a point. Most Americans depend on having a car just to be able to survive… which means they’ll drive whether they’re legal or not. Or, forgo getting a job and live off welfare.

    Anyway, I’m glad to hear all of you are always 100% concentrated and calm and slow drivers. I’m not, though I try, so I’ll continue to sign up for more than just liability insurance.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Our small-town newspaper is one of those that has a “Police Blotter” column. Every week, there are three or four drivers ticketed while going through our small town–usually in a car with pot or coke in the glovebox or even on the seat–because their license had been “suspended four times” or they have “five previous DWI convictions.” No compulsary insurance, no inspection sticker, no valid driver’s license….so you’re absolutely right, they need to drive to survive and they’ll do it until they’re stopped. And then sent off to do it some more.

  • avatar

    Perhaps a workable solution:
    Learners permit at 16, no real license until 18. Two years of driving supervised by a parent is better than the 6 weeks we have in some states. In addition to that, require several hundred hours of driver’s ed to be distributed somewhat evenly over the two years. No gym teachers–since the government just likes to grow and grow, why not have a DMV division for this? It could be somewhat subsidized, but classes could be paid for by the driver/learner as well. Even better would be private driving schools–private companies are almost always better than gov’t agencies anyway.

    Have vehicle restrictions for new drivers. No 6,000lb SUVs with less than two years of experience in a normal car and without having demonstrated the ability to handle such a beast. We need more license classes than motorcycle, car, box truck, and semi.

    We could have kinetic energy restrictions as well, but that might wreck traffic flow. A Yukon at 65mph has approximately the same kinetic energy as a Miata at 110…

  • avatar

    If we don’t change something soon to ensure our freedom and safety in cars, I’ll tell you what will… Big Brother. More hidden speed cameras, non-tamperable GPS devices and black boxes in cars.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Unfortunately, “freedom” and “safety” are not complementary. We have plenty of freedom in our cars–freedom to drive them however we please, at whatever speeds we try to elect to get away with, and to do whatever we wish inside them. Lots of freedom. All the friggin’ freedom in the world.

    I, frankly, would like to see some of that “freedom” taken away, since these people are opposite-direction traffic, as we call it aloft. Indeed, pilots when under positive control (i.e. talking to ATC and under radar monitoring/control) don’t have much freedom at all, and that how most of us choose to fly when we want to be as safe as possible: IFR, intrument flight rules. Let the freedom-minded jerks who feel it’s an impostion on their personal rights to have to talk on the radio and answer to air-traffic controllers flop around VFR down in uncontrolled airspace, we’ll give up some of our freedoms to have guaranteed separation from other aircraft.

    There are possible automotive parallels coming in the future, I’m sure. It’ll all be automated rather than involving “road-traffic controllers,” but if you want to share the Interstate with me, you’re going to have to give up some of those precious, dangerous “freedoms.”

  • avatar

    It seems to me that in America there are three tiers of automobile insurance. There are the very low cost policies available to good drivers that basically pay out 25 cents on the dollar (this segment is mostly owned by Geico and Progressive), there are the genuine policies oferred to good drivers that make good on claims (the majority of the industry) and then there are the “state pools” or “specialty insurance” that basically costs your first born child and is meant for the otherwise uninsurable.

    When you buy your insurance from Geico or Progressive be sure you understand what you are doing. When they cut you a $1,000 check as final settlement for a $4,000 loss or they try to lock you in their “preferred” body shop that does stinking work then please don’t go bitching all over creation about it, because now you know the rules of the game.

  • avatar

    The USA will never have a system that weeds-out, or otherwise punishes poor/reckless/psychotic drivers.

    First off, there is too much money involved. Auto manufacturers/dealers, oil companies, courts, lawyers, doctors, insurance companies, repair/body shops all have a monetary interest in keeping things they way they are now.

    “Hippo” also mentioned demographics and PC-ism. When you start keeping accurate statistics about who is at fault, some people get their panties in wad when they see the results. What the statistics tend to reveal is that certain ethnic groups, age groups, and economic classes tend to cause a disproportionate amount of road mayhem. This will not do, we are all equal, it says so on the “Statute of Liber-tree”.

    BTW, New Jersey easily has the most f***ed up and corrupt auto insurance laws in the country. NJ has a combined no-fault and tort system — the worst aspects of both were combined. The lawyers absolutely love it. That reminds me of a lawyer joke. Q: What is the difference between a dead lawyer lying in the road and a dead rat lying in the road? A: There are skid marks leading up to the rat.

  • avatar


    But if you ever need a lawyer, I bet you won’t tell him or her that joke when you meet.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    In late 1997, as I recall, a university in Quebec – University of Montreal? – did a study on cell phone use in cars, one of the first of many by a variety of concerns. They found that using a hand-held cell phone in a moving car increased the likelihood of an accident by a factor of four – about the same factor that being drunk and driving does. Nonetheless, most states in America allow people to operate moving vehicles and chatter aimlessly on cell phones. (Please don't tell me that cell phones prevent accidents. They might be good to call for help after the fact; that's it.) In the Puget Sound area of Washington State, we have had, over the past 10 years, some gut-wrenching "accidents" involving cell phones. One involved a driver whose phone, in the console area of his car, went off; and when he reached down to get it, he crossed a centerline and ran into a family's van, killing said family's twin daughters. The dumb-ass was cited for nothing more than inattention to driving and paid about $500. More recently – about 6 years ago – and woman in a Ford Explorer (sorry, Ford but that was in the papers, too) was chattering on her cell phone and ran into the back of a car, whose family was experiencing car trouble (and had parked it off to the side of the road). Most of the family died in an ensuing inferno. The father, was severely burned, trying to save his family, and died days later. The driver, whose attorney – a true weasel – asserted she wasn't on the phone, even though cell phone records prosecutors got hold of, showed she was; and she got nothing more – if that – than the other cell phone killer got. Nonetheless, the insurance companies and politicians in this country refuse to change the laws, even though most surveys show the public is aware the laws need to be changed. Of course, it is still the law of the land that lobbyists can buy the law makers. Over on the other side of the Atlantic, England has legislated against the use of cell phones in moving vehicles. Get caught using one in the UK, and you are breaking the law. (No, I don't know the penalty, but I doubt it is just a few hundred bucks.) It's the main reason these days, I wouldn't mind moving there. It's a country that seems much wiser than we, in terms of understanding that driving is a privelege, not a right. The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of movement – that's it. If you want to chatter on your cell phone, take a bus. And I await AllState's stance on people who cause death and mayhem, while on cell phones in cars. I guess it's another no fault deal?

  • avatar

    Growing up all my life in British Columbia, where insurance is controlled by an arm of the government, as is licensing (which it should be), I find this discussion highly interesting. Insurance here is mandatory for any vehicle touching the pavement. No-fault was suggested a few years ago…but it was quashed when a new gov’t came to power, and from what I’m reading, I think I’m glad. Drivers here, are somewhat rewarded by giving progressively increasing discounts for every year of no at-fault accidents, up to around 40%. Complaints arise from this system a lot. The insurer often treats everyone involved in an accident like a criminal, unless proven otherwise…..fraud is always suspected, sometimes with good reason (especially for non-accident claims). Rates for insurance are also a source of ire, as everyone feels that they are paying too much, especially compared to private insurance. Overall, although no system is perfect, I think I’ll stick with this one.

    Licensing, OTOH, has been improving. Graduated licencing and probationary periods that can be waived when attending accredited driving schools have forced many to actually think behind a wheel. For my motorcycle test i was equipped with a walkie-talkie and followed around by the examiner for an hour. It used to be a parking lot test similar to what some others have written about. It could still be a lot more strict though, as driving habits are definitely “look out for #1”. And riding a motorcycle has markedly improved my driving skills, as you sure do start to look everywhere around you, for things that are gonna kill you, something that most drivers don’t need to every think about. Come to think of it, maybe everyone should be forced to ride a motorcycle for a year or two before being allowed to get behind the wheel of a car. It will make most people better, and weed out the others.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    The burgeoning new category of accidents that we’re beginning to see–as was pointed out by a fellow EMS guy who posted earlier on this thread–is iPod crashes, which will soon join cellphone fatals in “popularity” as manufacturers increasingly add MP3 input jacks to their new cars.

    iPods, for those of you who don’t use ’em, have dim, matchbook-size screens that display the text about the song being played (including a dime-size graphic of the album cover), or the song you want or hope to play, and there’s a touch-sensitive “wheel” that lets you choose all sorts of stuff like album, artist, song, genre, phase of the moon, sexual preference of the singer, whatever.

    It’s a little fiddly, particularly when you’re doing 70 with one hand, and operating an iPod makes tuning a standard car audio seem as simple as turning on the wipers. iPod crashes, I predict, will take over the top of the Hit Parade from cellphoners.

  • avatar

    England isn’t perfect, they do have speed cameras.

  • avatar

    Here’s an idea – (and it’s not mine) – how about basing liability coverage on how many miles the motorist drives? The technology exists, the insurance companies are looking the other way, and most state legislators are doing likewise.

    The arguement for no-fault is economic, and pretty solid. Case-by-case investigation of every collision to assign blame, with litigation in many cases, is too expensive to accomplish the intended purpose. Pay by the mile insurance would at least shift the burden of expense to those who drive the most. Insurance companies are still levying higher rates on those with a pattern of accidents. And it’s still worth going to court for big liability cases.

    While we’re at it, why doesn’t the state offer basic liability coverage to all licensed drivers? (Also not my idea.) They require it, and enforce it, and they could easily pay for it with gas taxes, with adjusments for high-risk cases at registration. Isn’t the current situation what they call an “unfunded liability?”

  • avatar

    Without plowing through all of the priro responses-sorry, I need to get some sleep-I hope that I am not repeating what has already been said. I agree totally that most of what are termed "accidents" are foreseeable consequences arising from the actions of one or both drivers who are involved. As such they are no more accidental than when I pull the pot out of the coffe maker and coffe drips all over the warming plate. Anybody with any common sense woud knwo that the coffee is likely to continue flowing whether the pot is there or not. I have been in three "accidents" and narrowly avoided many others. Twice I have been backed into by people leaving a parking spot and a private driveway and once I was rearended on the 101 freeway in Santa Rosa in stop and go traffic-like there's any other kind of traffic on the 101 in Santa Rosa :-). None of these accidents were truly accidental. They were all caused by drivers that weren't paying proper attention to the road around them. I too am steamed every time I see a driver make an illegal and unsafe turn or run a red light and nothing is done. I can remember at least five instances of blatantly unsafe driving where a police officer did nothing. But, don't you dare go 75 in a 70 zone even if it's a sunny clear day on a straight stretch of freeway with very light traffic. I do disagree that getting the government involved in driver's training would help. As you pointed out, there are plenty of drivers on the road that shouldn't be there. Why? Because the government licensing agencies have no problem issueing licenses, but seem particulalrly loathe to take them back no matter how many times the holder has demonstrated an inability to drive. Why should I expect government provided training to be any better? What part of the curent equation that is government controlled-enforcemnet of traffic laws and issuing of driver's licenses-suggests that they would do any better at training drivers? Personally, I'm all for better enforcement of the existing rules of road with a heaping helpingof personal responsibility thrown in. Make those at fault truly pay for the damage they have caused. wlsellwood: Paying for insurance based ont eh number of miles driven assumes that all driver's are equally bad. Most peopel who drive for a living rack up more miles in a year than I do in a decade, and they are by far the safest segemnt of the driving population. For instance, my grandfather drove 450 miles each night five nights a week for 20+ years delivering mail. Zero accidents. Doesn't seem fair to me that he should pay five times what Barbi pays when she has an accident at the same rate as Nordstroms has sales just because he drives five tiems as many miles as her.

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    What we need is more driver education. After we got the licence, the only way to get experienced is to get driving experience, i.e. doing a lot of small or bigger mistakes. This have be changed. Why not short safety commercials in the soap operas?

  • avatar

    Here’s a way to reduce your insurance rates drastically: drop comprehensive and collision. Seriously. If you can’t afford to crash the car, then perhaps a lower-cost car is the way to go. Whenever I buy a car (used car, paid in full) I sign up for the full insurance coverage. When the insurance renewal comes 6 months later I figure that if I were going to crash it I would have already done so, so I drop everything except liability. I’ve owned cars for 16 years and figure I’ve saved at least $16k in premiums–more than my car is now worth.

    If the above sounds like a “high risk” way of living than consider it merely a “high risk” financial investment… put the rest of your savings in corporate bonds if it makes you feel better. Investing in yourself (and your driving ability) is much better than investing in risky stocks.

  • avatar


    Charging accident-free drivers based on a simple risk profile: age, gender, credit, etc. also assumes each person in the same bracket is equally bad, or good. And some of the data for assigning risk to the categories is questionable. Pay-by-the-mile simply makes mileage exposure a major factor in setting rates; it doesn’t ignore all other factors. Your grandfather surely benefitted by driving a familiar route at the same time every night.

    The point is that the insurance industry is following the same logic here as the banks do with “no-fault identity theft” or the courts with “no-fault divorce.” I tossed out this solution because it helps deal with the cost vs. accountability problem at the core of Farago’s complaint, and nobody else had mentioned it. I’m guessing most posters here are also unaware of how exempt the insurance industry is from most anti-trust and disclosure laws.

    PBTM would give people an incentive to look for ways to reduce their miles driven. Currently, the insurance companies are milking profits from people who drive substantially less than 7500 miles per year. This is probably one reason why they are hard of hearing on this proposal.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Why not make a high-quality “driving simulator”? The graphics technology has been there since Voodoo2, force-feedback is advanced enough to at least let you know that you’re sliding, and it doesn’t take much to simulate a town full of idiot (or good) drivers reasonably well.

    Give it away for free together with those “Rookie Driver” booklets. Maybe even make it a part of driver ed – lock kids up in a room full of PC’s and one PE-teacher kind of instructor, and you’re good. Keep score of how many times they crash.

    Kids spend hours in front of the computer every day, at least there should be an opportunity for them to put these hours to better use.

  • avatar

    Glenn wrote:

    …It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that a lot of people buy 30 days of insurance, go get license tags then let the insurance drop…

    When I worked in Chicago (about ten years ago) I had a coworker who actually did this when she bought a new subcompact Chevy (a Metro I think). Shortly thereafter she totalled it near work, and the remains where visible at a parking lot for a week or so. This “very smart person” had to pay the new car loan even though she did not have a car.

    Unfortunately, it was one of the most inexpensive new cars to buy. (It would have been far more educational for her if she had purchased a mid-sized German luxury import.)

    NICKNICK wrote:

    …As an aside, just last weekend I was the first on the scene of an iPod near-fatality. 60mph, airborne, tree, no seatbelt, fire–’nuff said. I stayed until the firemen and police were done so that I could burn it into my memory so that my iPod never kills me…

    I am not an iPod user now, but if and when we get more iPod “integration” built into cars then maybe I will join the “iPod Nation.” I mean you take the silly thing and plug it into a receptacle much like the old 8-track cassettes, with full steering wheel controls and maybe a HUD simulating the ipod screen. It couldn’t be any less safer than the current steering wheel radio controls.

    SunnyvaleCA wrote:

    Here’s a way to reduce your insurance rates drastically: drop comprehensive and collision. Seriously. If you can’t afford to crash the car, then perhaps a lower-cost car is the way to go…

    If people can not afford to crash their cars, then maybe this will make them a safer driver? This may work for those who are responsible enough to have any insurance (in this case liability only) vs. those who have none.

    JuniperBug wrote:

    To me, the argument of: “You can’t raise driving standards in North America, because North Americans need to drive in order to make a livelihood” just doesn’t hold water…

    And Stephan Wilkinson wrote:

    Those who feel driver training should be made more stringent are wasting their time. Not gonna happen, as Bush the First would have said…

    …but the political reality is that there are WAY too many special-interest groups and lobbies, from AARP on down, to ever accept more stringent driver-licensing requirements…

    In Kentucky the driver’s test consists of pictures with a simple caption or question and multiple guess answers.

    How much of this is bending over backwards for the people with less than a third grade reading level, and how much of it is a real world driving skills evaluation with the aid of visuals?

    I have heard of people who can not read road signs who are licensed to drive. How is this possible? Is there a cottage industry of driving test answers (for all versions A, B, C, etc… of the test) being sold for a profit? Makes you wonder.

    Terry Parkhurst wrote:

    In late 1997, as I recall, a university in Quebec – University of Montreal? – did a study on cell phone use in cars, one of the first of many by a variety of concerns. They found that using a hand-held cell phone in a moving car increased the likelihood of an accident by a factor of four – about the same factor that being drunk and driving does…

    …In the Puget Sound area of Washington State, we have had, over the past 10 years, some gut-wrenching “accidents” involving cell phones…

    I wonder if Bluetooth (TM) is any safer? I would think it would be safer than driving drunk. Does anybody know of any studies involving Bluetooth use while driving?

    And also, do any states that ban cell phone use while driving make an exception for Bluetooth?


    California seems to have the absolutely highest rates for insurance. The TV MSM has reported there is systemic auto insurance fraud taking place in Ca, complete with pools of doctors who work with corrupt attorneys for this end. It is far less costly for the insurance cos to settle with these corrupt lawyers than to fight them in court.

    The TV MSM has also shown the Russian mob in the Northeast is doing the same thing, and that some “medical clinics” in this area have been closed because they are nothing but fronts for these operations.

  • avatar

    Puget Sound:
    To be clear, the Puget Sound area these days is a traffic-filled nightmare. And the roads are frequently highly slick with rain. For some reason, people don’t drive sanely there in the wet.

    Bluetooth is a transport, not an application. There would be no reason to make an exception for it. If you’re talking about “hands-free” calling, I believe some states do have exceptions for it.

    In California, the requirements for a teenager procuring a drivers license were greatly increased in the past ten years. As a result, the teen motor vehicle death rate has been cut by half. I would also venture that the newest generation will continue to be safer drivers for the rest of their lives, having been trained well in the first place.

    If it can be done in California, it can be done anywhere. Grandma and her AARP buddies are still a threat, but teenagers need not be (as much).

  • avatar

    1. I am just as distracted using “hands free” cell phone calls as I am by “left hand on shoulder” cell phoning. My car is an extension of my office. I get and make business calls going from one spot to another. A few years ago, after missing a turn off and having no clear memory of where it was, while talking and driving, I have made it a habit to get off the road when the call is going to more than a really short one. I am all for multi tasking but I cannot drive well and carry on an intelligent cell phone conversation at the same time. I do not think I am alone. “Driving while distracted” has to a wreck cause more than acknowledged.

    2. Several years ago I was instrumental in helping to get the Georgia “Vehicle Safety Inspection” law rescinded. The facts are that the most dangerous vehicles, like pulp wood trucks, were exempt, less than 1% of wrecks were reportedly caused by mechanical malfunctions (and that includes “brakes failed” which does not mean the brakes failed to work), and it was a rip off on vehicle owners who had vehicles over 5 years old and did not have a legislators’ license plate. It has probably hurt the economy of owning an inspection station at a garage and every year some do gooder introduces a bill to get them back. Good riddance.

    3. To have any effect, at least here in the southeastern USA, comprehensive driver’s ed will have to be incorporated into the education system of Africa and Mexico. Once that is done we can get the UN to teach them about insurance before they leave home.

    4. It is easy to understand how Geico makes a profit. Twice family members of mine were in accidents caused by Geico insureds. In both casers the other driver was at fault and ticketed. Has to be clear cut in GA for a cop to that if the cop did not see the wreck take place. In both instances Geico refused to pay and I had to pay attorneys to get Geico to make an offer. Easy to run an insurance company if you do not pay third party claims.

    5. The regular refrain about making “DUI laws Tougher” is pure crappola. The cops are now encouraged and trained to make marginal cases, the penalties for a first offense are horrendous and the laws do not stop chronic offenders. At .08, you can get a DUI charge. That does not even mean you are driving impaired, unless you had 2 glasses of wine with dinner and weigh 100 pounds. MADD has always been a Prohibitionist movement, despite their denials. I do not care about Sweden’s laws either. If they were effective, why do Volvo’s and Saabs c ome from there?

  • avatar

    “To have any effect, at least here in the southeastern USA, comprehensive driver’s ed will have to be incorporated into the education system of Africa and Mexico.”

    Africa? Oh right all those bad drivers we have from Kenya clogging up the motor ways and running decent Americans off the road. What the hell are you talking about?

    In order to have a truly effective driver training/testing we need to teach people how to safely execute emergency maneuvers. To do that we would need test tracks that provide environmental simulations and expert drivers who know how to teach. The cost increase over the current system of utilizing abandoned streets and old gym teachers would be astronomical. I personally think it would be worth it, but you could never convince the country without some expensive long-term testing.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    About inspections: In MD, I had to go rather shady routes to get my near-mint MR2 to pass, because of a dime-sized star on the windshield. On the other hand, the 76 Firebird at the point of purchase had full rights to roam around with no rear brakes, no rear floors, misaligned headlights, sticking front caliper (that’s only one brake out of four, folks!), and sticky throttle, all while being twice as heavy and twice as powerful. Yet it drove around like this for 5k miles without an accident, or even a close-call incident. Historic tags rock, they can’t even give you fix-it tickets.

    Point? State inspection is usually a racket.

    Seems like pistonheads’ only escape is to move up one level. FAA is rather people-friendly and doesn’t have the same nazi-oriented traits as DOT. I can only hope that they’ll create a commuter ultralight class sometime soon.

  • avatar

    Point one: INsurance companies are int he business of making money. Period.

    Point two: If you stop watching TV (as I have), you will not see ANY stupid advertisments for any idiot products. I smile alot more now.

  • avatar

    This piece is right on the money, Robert.

    Whitenose: I’d say you’re giving $acramento a little too much credit. Yes, the graduated driver’s license (GDL) program has delivered results (and made getting mine a pricey and lengthy process), but the fact remains that we’re all going through essentially the same half-baked testing regimen, and most driver’s ed programs are just as useless, if not more so (I, however, took the Auto Club’s class, and my parents and I were both impressed, and we aren’t the only ones). As things stand, the issuing of driver’s licenses is so close to being affirmative action that I’m surprised the ACLU or some other organization hasn’t had a hissy fit about it.
    Until politicians and law-enforcement agencies get truly serious about bringing the driver’s ed and licensing process up to where it is in other countries and should be here, we’ll continue to play Russian roulette every time we pull out of our driveways.

    For what it’s worth, I wrote a column for my school newspaper on this matter 11 months ago. You can find it here:

  • avatar

    jackc100 wrote:

    4. It is easy to understand how Geico makes a profit. Twice family members of mine were in accidents caused by Geico insureds. In both casers the other driver was at fault and ticketed. Has to be clear cut in GA for a cop to that if the cop did not see the wreck take place. In both instances Geico refused to pay and I had to pay attorneys to get Geico to make an offer. Easy to run an insurance company if you do not pay third party claims.

    Geico does not want to pay third party claims because they have other, more important things to pay for. The Geico budget for their national advertising has to be at leats $100 million, perhaps even approaching 1/4 Billion dollars. Geico is nothing more than a giant marketing scam that is being perpetrated on our population, tacitly endorsed by Mr. GREAT INVESTOR himself Warren Buffet (a major shareholder), and ignored by all of the state attorney generals.

  • avatar

    No driver’s ed or high-performance driving program has been devised that is proven to decrease subsequent crash risk.

    I’m not even sure if it’s possible. Sure, tougher training and licensing requirements would weed out the truly clueless or incompetent, but these probably account for only a tiny fraction of US drivers.

    Even if someone “knows” all of these advanced driving techniques (like skid control for example) as well as all of the traditional rules of the road doesn’t mean he/she will apply them. That is, attitude trumps knowledge, as in “I’m late for this important meeting, so everyone outta my way!”

    I think the only way out of the mess is increasing automation of driving — it’s really only us enthusiasts who will oppose such a thing. But I feel reassured that the back roads will never be fully automated, though I wouldn’t mind a warning that some fool is racing toward that blind intersection up ahead with no apparent intent of yielding.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Jeez, finally somebody who agrees with me. Automatic cars are the answer, since dreams of new licensing standards are about as realistic as a requirement that everybody be able to spell to hold citizenship. Notgonnahappen. I’ve been reading all these ridiculous posts about how this or that new licensing or testing requirement will solve all our problems, all of them put forth by elitists who apparently are utterly unaware that there are 240 million other Americans out there who will say, “Excuse me? I need to pass what test? Pass this stone, buddy…”

    Get real.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Most likely, studies are being done as we speak – or write – on Bluetooth technology, maybe even iPod technology, and driving habits. My hunch – just a hunch – is the accident rate will be just as high vis-a-vis cell phones; maybe as Stephan Wilkinson has written, it will be even higher (worse). From what I have seen, iPods are the new addiction (sounds like a good title for a new song by Beck). Will it affect legislation? My hunch (again) is only in the sense that lobbyists will have larger budgets to buy off – "persuade" might be how they'll put it – politicians to look the other way. There's another factor involved, in that politicians seem to be ignorant about technology. Most, after all, majored in the Liberal Arts, before going to law school. Few are enthusiasts of any sort of technology – automotive, computer, aeronautics or what have you. Many of these people, while bright about other things, just seem to get lost in a discussion of technology. A notable exception seemed to be – never met him, but have read his bio – the late Barry Goldwater; but he was a pilot. And whether or not one agrees with John McCain about ramping up (or whatever you call it) troops for the occupation of Iraq, he is another politician who seems to understand technology, pretty well; but there's another (former) pilot. In closing, allow me to say that when considering the leverage of lobbyists, recall for yourself a joke once told by (former senator and now actor on "Law and Order") Fred Thompson, who once said, after getting elected to the U.S. Senate in late 1994, "I'm new to Washington. Last Thursday, I spent some of my own money." As an auto enthusiast (and someone whose father was killed by a drunk driver), when I call someone via their cell phone number, I usually ask them, up front, "Are you driving?" If they are, I ring off and call them later, when they are stationary. That might be the best we can hope for; and do. Sadly, it seems that Congress is as PJ O'Rourke called them (in a book title) "a parliament of whores." Most state legislatures aren't far behind.

  • avatar

    It would be interesting to see an insurance company actually market themselves toward rewarding better drivers and punishing poor drivers. I’m sure there’s a major market to be tapped here…

    Of course, don’t ingore the media’s complete lack of interest in this subject. Then again, perhaps Oprafied viewers don’t want to know 40K vehicle deaths per year is over 3000 dead PER MONTH. (100 per DAY)
    To give an apples to elephants comparison, you’d think that given the overwhelming war dead coverage of every death up to 3000 (over 3 years), there may be a little more emphasis another thing that kills so many more…

    To those reading who’ve lost a love one at the hands of another driver’s ‘accident’, my heart goes out to you…

  • avatar

    Nearly 30,000 deaths a year result from household accidents. I’m not sure how that affects the arguments in this thread, but it’s food for thought.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Living is a deadly affair.

  • avatar

    Recently, there was a limited test of a VOLUNTARY black box on your car that would reward you for good driving, even in the absence of an incident (let’s face it, without a wreck, there are not that many “severe rate predictors” for adults)

    Forget the invasion of privacy for a second–it’s voluntary, after all. There were two main problems:

    1. It focused HEAVILY on speeding, such as “not exceeding the limit more than 5% of the time.” We’ve already established that speeding is a poor predictor of bad driving, so this device might actually be dangerous in most cities’ early rush hours.

    2. The total potential savings was about 5% or 10%, which is FAR from infleuntial, IMHO. I’m not letting you monitor me and incent me to drive slowly everywhere just to save $10 a month.

    But I like where it was going, since it’s the closest thing to matching to policy to the actual driver, rather than to their socioeconomic class and vehicle type.

  • avatar

    Part of driver behavior is personality, which is damn tough to regulate or modify. My daughter, for example, is by nature conservative and cautious in a car. I could put her in an Enzo and she wouldn’t go more than 10 over the limit. A friend’s son is the same way. On a fast day he drives just over the speed limit. No accidents in either case.

    By the same token, we all know people who are egotistical, aggressive, mean-spirited, etc. And they probably drive the same way. Some stuff is hard-wired. And in some people, just getting into a car brings out a weird side of their personality.

    But personality aside, the bigger issue is that driving has become too routine, too ordinary. To most people it’s like eating or watching TV–just something you do. And since modern cars, even the bad ones, do such a good job of isolating people from the road, it’s easy to literally “just be along for the ride,” as all too many drivers seem to be. Get in, sit down, crank the stereo or get on the phone, pretend to drive. Why let something like the car pulling out in front of you interrupt your phone call or reading email on your cell phone?

    I used to think better training and tougher licensing were the answers, but no longer. I still believe they would certainly help, but some behavior modification –probably via insurance rates– might be more likely to produce some results. But with Allstate’s “accident forgiveness” schtick (of which other companies have their own flavor) bad driving is actually encouraged.

    I’m reminded of a movie (I forget which one) in which two young women in some econobox tried to beat an older woman in a big old Caddy to a parking space. They yelled out, “We’re younger and faster.” She went into the spot anyway, crunching their car in the process. “I’m older and have better insurance,” she responded.

  • avatar

    I’m reminded of a movie (I forget which one) in which two young women in some econobox tried to beat an older woman in a big old Caddy to a parking space. They yelled out, “We’re younger and faster.” She went into the spot anyway, crunching their car in the process. “I’m older and have better insurance,” she responded.

    “Fried Green Tomatoes”

  • avatar

    As a pilot I am amazed at the lack of training, retesting and equipment specificity of driver’s licenses. A pilot is limited to low performance planes until they can specifically get an instructor to endorse their license for complex aircraft (over 200 hp, or retractable gear) and can’t fly in instrument conditions until trained and licensed. And you need an additional rating for twin engine planes – not even start with what is needed for heavy aircraft, jets or other exotic planes. And every two years a pilot must complete a check ride with an instructor to be sure his skills are polished.

    Here one can get a license in a 100 hp Hyundia Rio and it’s legal for them to them try and control a Ferrari, or Sti or other high performance vehicles. And as the constant crashes show – often the drivers have no clue they are driving WAY over their limits. They also have very limited training in recognizing their own physical and mental limits as well as evaluating driving conditions. And when they mess up – often innocent folks in other vehicles are harmed. It’s just criminal that states have such lax licensing rules. European countries have much more difficult tests and their drivers seem to be far better – and it should be much the same here.

    And don’t get me started on distracted drivers. Cell phones, kids in the back and other activities I’ve seen (reading!!) make for very poor awareness. These folks are who the cops should be catching – but it’s easy to prove speed, and hard to prove distraction. Sigh.

  • avatar

    About vehicle safety inspections, we have them here in Utah and they’re a complete racket. Nothing to do with safety-they should be called “tax inspections” instead. And there’s plenty of research by unbiased researchers showing safety inspections are worthless, like the work by Poitras and Sutter on safety inspections. Colorado, with no safety inspections, has a lower accident rate than Utah, which doesn’t say much for their effectiveness. They are just a hidden tax, and whats worse, the auto dealers in the legislature have written exemptions into the law for themselves. Check out a website I’ve put together exposing this racket at

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