New Yorkers Can't Drive

Hey Topspeed,
Why does New York have so many bad drivers?

Mike D. from Brooklyn, New York

Hi Mike,

Do you have enough time for me to list all the reasons?

Seriously though, I have to agree with your assessment; New York is full of bad drivers. There are a few exceptions and I give high marks to most of the professional bus and truck drivers I often see. Otherwise, it seems that most New Yorkers are incompetent behind a steering wheel. I think the primary reasons for this phenomenon are insufficient driver training mandates and the lax requirements for obtaining a driver's license. Let's address the former issue first.

A five hour pre-licensing class from a commercial driving school is the only driver training currently required by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles before it issues a driver's license. This mandatory five hour driving class is a joke. You pay a fee to a driving school to watch a video but there isn't even a quiz on what you have watched. Countless people fall asleep at this "driving class" and still get their certificate of completion. The driving schools only care about collecting their fee. In fairness to the DMV, they do recommend taking actual lessons from a driving school and having at least ten hours of practice driving in moderately heavy traffic before taking the road test. One hundred hours of compulsory practice would be better though.

Furthermore, since lessons from a driving school are not required by the state of New York, innumerable people learn how to drive from a friend or a relative. Sadly, the friend or relative usually doesn't know how to drive properly either. This leads to awful driving skills being passed on from one person to the next and creates an endless chain of bad drivers. The Commissioner of Motor Vehicles should mandate four weeks of driving school as a minimum for anyone wanting to be licensed in the Empire State. Increased driver education and training will lead to better drivers, period.

Now to the issue of lax licensing requirements; an applicant must pass a simple vision test, a multiple choice written test and a road test to receive a NY State driver's license. The road test though is what really allows so many poor drivers to get on our roads. I don't know if the DMV has a licensing quota to meet but too many people that aren't roadworthy pass the test. The road test is very easy and is usually given on deserted or low traffic streets. The road test is not really effective either since most driving schools show their students the exact test route ahead of time. Some even let their students practice the route beforehand even though it is illegal to do so.

I'm sure that only a fraction of people that take the road test would pass if it were given under real life conditions. How about making license applicants navigate the busiest part of town during rush hour? Make sure to throw in a swarm of angry cabbies, a few suicidal bike messengers and some pedestrians crossing on red while yapping on their cell phones. Applicants would also have to parallel park into a tight space in less than thirty seconds. Completing this sort of test successfully would earn you a NYS driver's license. How does that sound?

I think there would be much less traffic and many happier motorists if this was the actual road test instead of what we have now. Another issue is that an applicant can bypass most of the New York licensing process altogether. They can simply trade in a driver's license from another state or even Canada and become a motorized menace.

So Mike, as you can see, the state government is mostly at fault for the large number of lousy drivers that clog our roads and make driving in New York such an aggravation. The next time another driver cuts you off or blocks the intersection, give them your favorite obscene gesture as is custom and thank your Commissioner of Motor Vehicles.

Finally, to all the superb and courteous drivers that do exist in New York, keep up the good work and continue to set the example for everyone else. Signaling is not a lost art.

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