I’ve just started teaching my 16-year-old son to drive. How times have changed! Twenty-five years ago you just needed to get a few professional lessons, practice with Dad a bit on the weekends and after about eight or ten goes with the driving instructor you would do the driving test and if all went well, walk out of the VicRoads office with a brand new drivers license, a set of P plates and huge grin you couldn’t wipe off with a drunken fist.
These days you must record every driving session down to the minute into a log book along with the car’s rego, date, time and odometer reading at start and end of session, supervisor’s name, address, license number, traffic and weather conditions, day/night etc. And this is a good thing. The more accountable learner drivers and their supervisors are the better drivers they will become.
In Victoria, Australia the deal is a learner driver must clock up 120 hours of driving including 10 hours of night driving before they can attempt the license test, once they are 18. Then when they pass the test they’re allowed to pick up a car load of mates and essentially go wild, within reason. And that’s part of the problem. All too often you see P-platers get themselves killed or injured because they are driving irresponsibly, usually with their mates in the car with them. There is obviously something missing here in the driver education system.
So while I had my son driving me up and down a deserted street in an industrial estate one Sunday during his first hour behind the wheel, I got thinking about an old school mate who learned to fly. Pilots must do a certain number hours flying solo before they can walk out of the flying school with that huge grin. Motorcycle learners have little choice, they must practice solo. So wouldn’t it make sense to allow learner car drivers to also clock up some solo hours? Solo driving while on your L’s would certainly make you appreciate the real hazards of driving when you are totally on your own, no one to ask for help, no one to egg you on to do silly things.
Here’s how it might work:
- In addition to the minimum 120 hours of supervised driving and only after those 120 hours, a learner must clock up another, say 10, 20 or 40 (whatever, pick a number) hours of solo driving.
- Permission to proceed with solo driving would need to be granted by an authorised officer who has verified the 120 logged hours of supervised driving. Perhaps a new solo learner permit should be issued, or have the current one stamped or modified in some way. The bean counters can work out the most cost-effective solution.
- Solo driving time would be logged by a supervisor in the same way as supervised driving except the supervisor must not travel with the learner. This obviously means the learner must return to his starting point in order to have his session logged. No stopping off at the pub in between! Remember the odometer is recorded, too. In fact, minimum kilometres might be required instead of, or as well as a minimum time.
- The solo learner driver would display a different L plate. Normally a black L on a yellow background, a solo learner might display a black L on a red background, for example.
- Having achieved the right to practice solo driving, the L-plater is still permitted to drive while supervised, provided they display the correct L plate.
- Of course there would be penalties for solo L drivers carrying passengers of any kind, fully licensed or not. Whether these be financial penalties or a suspension or cancellation of the learner permit is up for discussion.
Granted, there may be a high risk of possible fraud with this system, but despite that doesn’t this sound like a no-brainer?