2008-06-29

Show me the numbers, please

A few years ago someone decided that you need a driving license, rather than just a short course and a permit, to drive 50cc scooters and the like. Now these 50cc scooters and mopeds had a lot of limitations. Their maximum speed was capped at 45km/h, only one person can ride on them and they had rather anemic engines. It was also prohibited to drive them on highways.

I used to own a moped when I was 16. It was great for mobility since I grew up in rural Norway. Perhaps the rules were a bit different back then, but mine could do almost 80km/h and I think it was only supposed to do 50km/h or 60km/h (no, I didn't modify the engine). I dread to think what my teenage years would have been like if I didn't have some legal means of transportation back then. Being dependent on others for transportation would have been no fun. Of course, the fact that by the time I was 16, about half a dozen people I knew had either been killed or injured for life also made me value not having to bum rides off people just a couple of years older than me.

Interestingly enough, all of them in cars. As passengers.

So a few years ago, the powers that be decided that it would be a good idea to bring an end to easily accessible motorized personal transportation in Norway. It had to happen sooner or later. As a nation, we try to clamp down as much as possible on any form of personal transportation that doesn't involve strapping planks to your feet and suffering endlessly.

There has always been an option though: You could get a A1 license. A license that will let you drive a 125cc lightweight motorcycle with up to 15hp -- and you can take a passenger. But that meant you had to get a driver's license, and that was a tad expensive and a bit too much hassle. You really had to want to drive a 125cc motorcycle to shell out a load of cash just two years before you were going to shell out a lot of cash again for a B-license, which in Norway is the normal driving license for a car.

Percentage-wise, not a lot of people bothered with the A1 license, and those who did, had an above average interest in motorcycles.

Today it seems fairly pointless to get a license for a glacially slow scooter when you can get a license for a lightweight motorcycle instead. Apparently a lot of people go for this option now -- a bit more expensive; lots more flexibility. I would guess fewer 16-year olds drive a scooter, moped or motorcycle in total, but the ratio of scooters and mopeds to lightweight motorcycles seems to have shifted. I see more lightweight motorcycles out on the streets than before and I see a lot of pretty aggressive driving.

So the upshot of this seems to be that we have a sharp increase in young drivers on far more powerful vehicles, capable of much higher speeds and much higher levels of acceleration. Sure, they get to go through a longer course, but any instructor who is perfectly honest knows that you can't drive worth shit when you are done. It takes a lot more time to become comfortable on two wheels. Especially if you drive something with a lot more grunt than a 50cc scooter.

Call me a nut, but I'd like to see the numbers that say this is a good idea. I'd like to see the numbers that say significantly more kids on light motorcycles is such a great idea for reducing the number of traffic fatalities. Hey, I might be wrong, but on the face of it, it looks counterintuitive and every morning I see banzai moves in traffic by kids on 125cc bikes. What gives?

Actually, what I'd like to see is 50cc scooters and mopeds that can do about 70km/h comfortably. Doing 45km/h in traffic is too dangerous and disruptive to the general traffic pattern and I'd like to meet the moron who thought 45km/h was a good idea. Obviously not a driver.

I also think the license for 50cc scooters and mopeds should be free. Make it an elective in school and have the government pay for it. If they want to reduce the number of deaths on the road, the only thing they can do to help is to ensure that the quantity of practical training available to everyone is increased sharply.

That means one thing: the opportunity to get substantial quantities of practical driving training for free. Let kids spend a whole year training for free and let them get lots of driving done.

Driving is one of those things you only get good at by doing it.

The current rules accomplish only one thing: increase strain on the wallets of parents of teenagers and lining the pockets of the people who are only providing training that has symbolic value. This is not producing better drivers.

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