The subject of the sub-standard driving that so frequently displays itself on British roads is one that us users of Autocar.co.uk love to discuss. I’m wondering if I can tempt you all to discuss it again. But I’m not just picking a likely topic that’ll make everyone wade in; I’ve got a practical suggestion to improve things that could, I think, make life better for all of us.
Why not make the first steps you go through to actually get your driving licence more like those you take in preparing for riding a motorbike? That’s what I’m wondering after spending last Sunday fizzing around the rural lanes of Warwickshire doing my CBT.
Getting the legal right to ride a motorbike isn’t quite as simple applying for a ‘provisional’, waiting to turn 17, and then signing one of your parents up for a white knuckle ride every time you want to venture out. Everyone who wants to ride does a day-long course of Compulsory Basic Training that ensures they’re up to a minimum standard before they’re allowed to get their motors running. So to speak.
The day focuses on theory and off-road bike control in the morning, and then practical road riding in the afternoon. You cover the importance of preparation, having the right safety kit, good clutch control, good observation, emergency stops, good road positioning, good anticipation – the lot. And it’s training not a test, so there’s no pressure: if you’re not up-to-standard by the end of the day, they just invite you back for another go.
By the end of my day, I’d had a blast on a little Honda CB125, and become not just a better rider but a better road user. I reckon you could easily construct an argument that every driver should do the course, whether they’re interested in riding or not. There are an increasing number of motorbike riders on the road, after all, and learning to be a good one makes you acutely aware of how you should drive to allow for them.
Having passed the CBT, I’ll be able to develop my riding at my own pace for the next two years. I’m armed with skills that already make me safe on the road, and from now on I don’t have to learn under the scrutiny of a paid-by-the-hour instructor or a tutting parent. Until I pass my full test I won’t be able to carry a pillion passenger, I won’t be able to ride a bike with more than about 17 horsepower, and I’ll have to wear L plates. And that’ll stop me getting too carried away too soon.
Now imagine an equivalent course for beginner drivers that weeded out all of those who really shouldn’t be behind the wheel before they even start. Imagine that it qualified you to drive a car with no more 1.2-litres of engine capacity, with no passengers other than one fully licensed adult or instructor, and for no more than, say, 5000 miles a year. Imagine that, after two years, you must either pass a more rigorous full driving test or take the beginner’s course all over again. You could even make qualified drivers take it once every few years as a refresher to correct bad habits, and use it to stop the elderly driving on into oblivious decrepitude. How can that not be a good idea?
There’s one hole in my logic, of course; if the way that motorbike riders are trained is so great, why are there so many apparently dangerous ones out there? And I can’t answer that yet. I suspect that it’s only the silly riders you really notice; the competent and safe simply melt into the background.