Every time another state or territory celebrates an Education Week, it has me wondering why driver training isn't part of the regular curriculum.
Driver education to them revolves around influencing attitudes. This is included within the subject of PDHPE for year 9 and 10 students in NSW public schools.
Meanwhile they define driver training as the skills of physically driving a vehicle, which is not a requirement in NSW schools nor is it part of any PDHPE syllabus.
Around Australia there are also various programs available which have been designed specifically for high school and first-year uni students. These are generally more about education though, suitable for pre-learners to help them attain their permit or perhaps for learners to gain more hours in their log book where applicable.
Looking at the most populous state again, the NSW Department of Education does allow for the possibility of individual schools to seek and attain local sponsorship to fund the acquisition, maintenance and storage of certified dual-control vehicles. But again, this is up to the school in question. It's not a requirement for them to do so. They merely have to follow the department's guidelines if they choose to go down this path.
So, my question is, why isn't driver training a normal part of high school throughout Australia instead of merely available in isolated pockets with sufficient local funding?
This is before we even contemplate the question of making advanced driver training a necessary component for obtaining a licence which I discussed in this column in more detail early in 2021. As I opened with then, "operating a vehicle's controls, and car control, are two very different levels of skill," because it's one thing to stay in your lane and otherwise obey the rules when conditions are good, it's another to retain control of the vehicle when conditions get bad or sudden hazards appear, or both.
Throughout Australia, our urban planning, and as such, our entire lives, are very much centred around road travel, to the point where it has become necessary to start testing older people again to ensure they're still fit to drive. In NSW for instance they need to pass an on-road driving assessment every two years to keep their unrestricted licence once they're over 85. And the fact they may still feel the need to drive at all, let alone continue past their local area, at that stage of their life speaks volumes for the car-centric nature of our lifestyles far beyond the needs to merely commute and buy groceries.
We're perhaps not quite as road-centric as the USA who just keep adding more lanes as if to prove the induced demand principle correct on epic scales (basically, the more appealing you make an option, the more people use it, and pretty soon you're right back where you started in terms of congestion and travel times). The most extreme example of this are the 26 lanes in parts of the corridor that the Katy Freeway in Texas serves, which are still not enough to ease congestion.
However, we're also nowhere near as public-transport friendly as we could be, even in the centres where such infrastructure does at least exist for commuters (however uninviting and time consuming it may be to use for many home and work location combinations around these Aussie cities).
Rural areas meanwhile, where some of the most dangerous and hazardous conditions exist, it should be acknowledged, simply have no choice but to use roads, whether it's for private transport or freight. Even places that had railway branch lines for a time have since seen them closed at some point, usually 30 or more years ago, and bus services aren't exactly plentiful everywhere either.
A potential counterargument relates to that induced demand principle. Governments don't want to be seen to be obviously encouraging more drivers. The various education programs for pre-learners and learners are a good thing, but until decent transit alternatives are actually offered everywhere it seems odd that the burden of learning how to drive is put on the individual who may or may not have the financial means to do so.