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road sage

We were in the waiting room of a DriveTest centre in London, Ont., one weekday afternoon in 2019 and the place was busy. My daughter had booked a driving test there because of the long wait time in Toronto.

While she was out on the road, I watched a young man apply for his Class G1 licence, the first step in Ontario’s graduated licensing program intended to let drivers build their skills in stages.

Once G1 drivers get some basic driving experience (accompanied by a fully licensed driver), they can take a road test that allows them to get a Class G2 licence with fewer restrictions on where and when they can drive. It’s only after passing a second road test that drivers can obtain their full G licence, allowing them full privileges as an Ontario driver. The whole process takes about 20 months.

But before they can get behind the wheel for the first time, aspiring drivers must pass a vision test and a written test demonstrating basic knowledge of Ontario’s rules of the road.

The young man in London failed his knowledge test. This did not alarm him. He left the DriveTest centre, walked to the parking lot, took out his key fob, opened the door of his car and drove away.

I never got the chance to ask him whether he knew how to parallel park.

This story is presented to place into context news that Ontario is, according to Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Dakota Brasier, “modifying the G road test to offer more road test appointments each day while removing duplicative elements from the G2 test.” That means getting rid of roadside stops, three-point turns and parallel parking.

These changes are being implemented to shorten the backlog for getting a licence. They are predicted to allow DriveTest centres to conduct 30 per cent more tests a day.

Across the country, new drivers have been enduring long waits to get a driving test. In Ontario, 421,827 tests have been cancelled since the pandemic began in 2020. This isn’t the only jurisdiction grappling with backlogs. In Florida, for instance, examiners are no longer required to be inside the car during exams. In Ireland, they hired 40 new examiners to help clear the backlog.

Many are alarmed and dismayed by the provincial government’s announcement. They fear these cuts will unleash thousands of dangerous, untrained drivers onto the road.

Well, I’ve got news for you. They’re already here.

It may not be a popular opinion, but the most dangerous drivers aren’t the newbies who aspire to get a licence; they’re the ones who’ve been driving for years, developing and calcifying bad habits.

I’ve never heard of a pedestrian being killed by a poorly executed parallel park. I hear daily about them being killed by lousy, distracted motorists who have been driving for decades. Or they’re being killed by the many folks who drive with suspended licences.

Instead of getting in a snit over shorter driving tests, why don’t we make it harder on drivers who flout the law? Let’s take the example of a 28-year-old woman from Elk Lake, Ont., whose vehicle collided with a train on New Year’s Day. She has been charged with driving while under suspension and failing to stop at a railway crossing signal.

What punishment does she face?

Brace yourself, this is tough stuff. If found guilty, she faces the ultimate penalty for driving with a suspended licence: a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000, or up to six months in jail. Hitting the train? That’s an extra $85.

Wow. Forget the guillotine. Move over, Spanish Inquisition. Somebody get Amnesty International on the phone.

At least she was sober and no one was injured, her included.

Thousands of motorists continue to drive drunk. They all have their G licence or equivalent. They can all, we assume, parallel park. The news is full of their exploits. During a 12-hour road check on Dec. 5 in Vernon, B.C., officers bagged 29 impaired drivers. In Durham, Ont., a driver was arrested for impaired driving twice in the same day. The list is endless.

I’ve always maintained that the best way to ensure better drivers is to make everyone get a motorcycle licence. Aside from the yahoos who speed in the city, bikers are by far the best drivers. They must be. You’re exposed on a motorcycle. You’re out there. You can feel the thin margin for error.

When it comes to driving tests, we need to understand that training should not end once you get your G licence. That is the major problem with our system. You get your G and immediately begin to atrophy as a driver.

We spend thousands on gym memberships, fad diets, vitamins, you name it, but nothing on making sure our driving stays in shape. Go to skid school, take a refresher course. Treat driving like a skill and a privilege.

The cuts to the tests are not ideal, but in the grand scheme of things, they are not our biggest problem. Forget the folks who are trying to get on the road; it’s the ones who are already there who are the problem.

Once again, I say: The fault, dear drivers, is not in our cars, but in ourselves.

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