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Test, Retest…Or Not. When Should Australian Drivers Be Retested?

For most of us, the most stressful thing we would do after finishing high school, be that after year ten or twelve, is learn to drive. Life’s hard enough when you’re dealing with no longer being at school, dealing with puberty and discovering the appeal of the opposite or same sex, sneaking in a durry or a beer without “the olds” finding out, trying to find work and realising that the trains, trams, buses, don’t go anywhere near where you need them to be….so we learn to drive.

I learned to drive after I was 18 thanks to a stint in Her Majesty’s Royal Australian Army, “marching in” a week before my 18th birthday. Back in the day, before the decision in some states to allow Mum, Dad, or a legal adult, to teach driving, it was pretty much mandatory to undertake driving lessons through a recognised driving school. This is when the basics of driving were taught: get in, get a proper and comfortable driving position, check the seatbelt was plugged in, the mirrors were in the right position, and there was go-go juice in the tank. This was before airbags, anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic driver aids and, frankly, before automatic transmissions took over from manuals as the cogger of choice.The instructor would emphasise, for manual transmissions, that you had a foot on the clutch, the handbrake was on (a lever style, not today’s electronic type), then you’d turn the key, maybe even need to adjust the choke, before feeding in a fine balance of accelerator and clutch as you’d pull away either smoothly or bunny hopping…You’d find out that speed and lack of experience made for trouser puckering moments, that instructors were human judging by the strangled gasps, that brakes work wonderfully well when the pedal is mashed hard and that ABS was a long way off…

Indicators were mandatory, not optional extras like they seem to be now, with climate control air-conditioning controlled by how far you wound the window up or down and that the radio was AM, FM, maybe a cassette, and that USB and 3.5 mm auxiliary ports were something from Star Trek. Handling skills improved, judging distances for trailing the car/truck/bus in front were more related to speed than attitude, and the mirrors were scanned every so often to double check for following traffic rather than squeezing pimples or checking your hair.

After a few, let’s say ten lessons, the instructor would say words along the lines of “Think ya ready?” and you’d book a test, a test to get your driver’s licence. On the day, you’d either be in a cold sweat as you struggled to remember everything, or you’d be cool as Fonzie in the serene knowledge that “I got this”. You might luck out and get your licence in the first attempt, or you’d make a simple mistake or three and have to redo it at a later date. But once you got the piece of paper that said Mr/Miss Smith is certified capable of driving, you’d beg/borrow/steal the keys to Mum and/or Dad’s car and away you’d go. For me, it was in my Dad’s ex work car. Dad was a Telecom worker and drove the Toyota HiAce van, complete with four speed column shift MANUAL. Top speed in first? 20 kph…But I managed. I learned to drive this beast, took girlfriends and mates to the drives (drive in movies, for you young whipper snappers) before I got my first car. But I never had to take another test.

We’re now on the downhill slide towards Christmas of 2017, with just a couple of years before one fifth of the twenty first century is over. And in all states and territories but the state of New South Wales, you still don’t have a mandatory requirement to take another driver’s test, regardless of age. The NSW requirement that anyone older than 85 pass the driving test every two years seems to be doing nothing according to a recent submission to the NSW government’s StaySafe inquiry, as from 2010 to 2015, the number of licence holders older than 85 increased by 54 per cent while the number of fatalities increased 300 per cent. There was a 40 per cent increase in drivers aged 60 to 64.It seems nary a week goes by where the news doesn’t mention a crash allegedly caused by an elderly driver forgetting which pedal is for stop and which is for go. However, the inquiry is investigating whether drivers of all ages should be required to do more driver training to address the recent increase in road fatalities. Just about every independent driver training institution says yes, but in which forms, is yet to be decided. The inquiry did note, however, that a pensioner’s group asked to be part of the inquiry had not provided any suggestions appropriate for this group of drivers.

NSW is the only state to offer the very popular modified licence to drive to the shops for drivers over a certain age, for example, or within a radius around their homes. Around a third of older drivers have a modified licence. This doesn’t require drivers to sit the test, providing their doctor says they’re healthy enough to continue driving. 85 year old Shirley Bains, from the Blue Mountains, was one of those that said the driving test for people of her age was discriminatory, having passed her mandatory re-test on the first attempt.Herein lies a major problem with road safety. Under the current system in NSW, Australia’s most populous state, there’s a gap of nearly seventy years between obtaining your driver’s licence and having to undertake another test, whilst elsewhere there’s NO requirement to be retested. However, it’s clear that there’s more to the driver issues seen on the road than “merely” undertaking another test. Driver trainers will tell you, emphatically, that speed is not the problem, but the emphasis placed on speeding as the cause of crashes, fatal or non, by the governments, overlooks and even shadows other aspects of why people crash. Drive around in Sydney and the surrounds, you’ll be constantly reminded of this as there’s no other signage warning you to drive appropriately apart from the ones that tell you of the use of speed cameras. Cross the border into Victoria or the ACT, and the same applies.

Where’s the signage telling you to indicate, to use headlights, to not tailgate, to stay in the left lane if travelling at more than 80 kph? Where’s the government advertising for the same? Why isn’t it law to NOT have earpods in whilst driving? There’s so many more questions to be asked. So what do YOU think? What do you feel can be, should be, done to improve our driver standards? Should people 85 and over Australia wide be rested or should ALL drivers be retested every five or ten years after obtaining their licence?