Confession: I failed the test. I needed 83 per cent to pass and I scored only 80. So place me in the 89 per cent of drivers in Alberta who failed a written driving test, correctly answering less than 25 of 30 questions. The average score was 22. (My score was 24.)
What did me in was this “trick” question: “According to the Basic Licence Driver’s Handbook, the three main factors that determine how long it takes to stop a vehicle are?” I answered: “the road conditions, weather conditions and braking time.” The correct answer was: “the driver’s perception time, reaction time and braking time.”
The University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering surveyed nearly 2,400 drivers to discover that veteran drivers (that’s me) and females (ditto) had a higher rate of failure than new drivers and men. (Cue the jokes about women drivers.)
The Toronto Sun quoted Scott Wilson of the Alberta Motor Association, which commissioned the study, saying: “Not everybody’s a poor driver, they just have a poor understanding of the rules. We tend to forget about what driving really is and how complex and risky it is.”
Even more scary is the comment made by Sabreena Anowar, the university graduate student who developed the survey. She said: “We should be alarmed because there are people on the road unaware of the rules.”
No kidding. I think of this every time I negotiate a four-way stop or wait none-too-patiently while a driver stopped on the other side of the intersection waits, he thinks politely, for me to turn left in front of him.
Drivers are unaware of the rules? Anyone who has negotiated Alberta’s city streets and highways know this.
Calgary recently introduced traffic circles, in an attempt to “calm” traffic in residential areas. There’s only one problem: few drivers have bothered to learn how to negotiate these circles and unless I was asleep during a public awareness campaign, the city traffic department hasn’t bothered to educate us. (Any car already in the circle has the right of way.)
Having learned how to drive in Edmonton, which, at that time, was infested with traffic circles, and having driven in both England and Ireland, their introduction to Calgary streets posed no problem. Now, if only the moronic drivers in Calgary would learn to signal when they’re exiting the circle.
Anecdotally, our worst driving habit — which magnifies all the other small errors — is speed. The limit on our highways is 110 km/h. Do that on Highway 2 north to Edmonton or south to Calgary, or on the Trans-Canada west to Banff and small children on tricycles will pass you. (Okay, that’s a joke.) But anyone who drives on our highways at the speed limit should obey the “Slow Drivers Keep Right” signs if he or she does not want to cause a giant tail-back with drivers who are doing anywhere from 125 km/h to 160 km/h, the equivalent of 100 miles per hour. Even small mistakes made at those speeds are magnified.
I likely failed the written test, which I did online, because it has been 50 years since my parents taught me how to drive and I subsequently made an appointment for a road test, negotiated Edmonton’s hilly streets in my dad’s 1953 stick-shift Meteor — including parallel parking on one of the hills — and walked away with a brand-new driver’s licence.
I’m certainly not alone in admitting it has been that long since I read a driver’s handbook. In my own defense, some of the questions were confusing. The difference in the sign identification question between school crosswalk ahead and the sign for a school zone seems picayune, while someone raised and educated in feet, inches and yards can be forgiven for not nailing the appropriate distance from the curb when parking. (The right answer was 50 centimeters; I answered 30 and my confusion is because any dolt can parallel park within 19 inches of the curb; it takes talent to get the car as close to the curb as one foot or less.)
The same argument applies to the question about the sign for slow-moving vehicles. I answered that a vehicle must display the sign if it cannot maintain a speed on the highway of 60 km/h. The correct answer is 40 km/h and I ask you, what is any vehicle that can’t go more than 40 km/h doing on one of Alberta’s main highways? The government might like to change that designation. Anyone doing less than 40 km/h on a highway is a clear danger to everyone around.
But the fact still remains — I failed the test. The good news is that, according to the provincial transportation department, fatalities and injuries in Alberta’s roads and highways have dropped for two years in a row.
The bad news is that we’re still tailgating, making unsafe turns in the face of oncoming traffic, and running our vehicles off the road, probably while texting, yakking on a cell phone or applying lipstick.
This column was provided by Troy Media