An unsuccessful merger (Or, It’s not me—it’s the test!)

You know what the problem with driving tests is? (And yes, the problem lies squarely with the test, not with the driver, of course.) The problem is that a driver can be disqualified (failed) for one mistake, even if the rest of the test clearly showed that that skill had been mastered.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that a person—any Random Person—goes in to take her G2 exit test, in order to obtain her final G-class driver’s license. (In Ontario, the fantastic graduated-licensing system means that new drivers get plenty of experience over a long period of time, before officially graduating to the no-restrictions G license. From beginner’s license to G-class, it takes about two years. The province of Nova Scotia, years ago, did not have graduated licensing, which a Random Person wishes it had, because it would have made for more confident and safer beginner drivers.) In any case, the G2 exit test is meant to primarily test one’s highway driving skills, although all other skills are certainly tested at the same time. Drivers must have waited a year between the G2 and the G, in which time the Ministry of Transport hopes that we have gained a lot of experience in driving on highways with speeds of 80 km/h or more. So in 15 minutes, the driver has to be able to demonstrate that s/he is a safe and knowledgeable driver on the highway.

Now, to get back to the fault of that driving test. Let’s say that a Random Person was asked by an examiner to show various skills such as merging onto a highway; changing lanes; maintaining the proper speed and distance; and exiting from a highway. Now, let’s say that the Random Person was nervous, and on the first instance of being asked to merge onto the highway, said Random Person did something unusual for her, which in the examiner’s eyes is deemed “an unsafe move”.

Here’s what happened, hypothetically: RP saw a big ol’ rig coming up on the left, not letting her in. In fact, because it was raining, the rig actually slowed down as it sided, and then braked as it got ahead of her. In the meantime, the merging lane was ending, and the car behind RP was coming up fast. So what could RP do? Couldn’t brake, because the car behind was going too fast, and might have slammed into RP’s vehicle. Couldn’t go forward, because the merging lane was ending. So RP judged the distance, and made a quick merge onto the highway, right behind the rig. Now it must be noted here that at no time was the life of any Random Person, or driving examiner, or other motorists on the road, endangered. Truly. But the examiner’s score sheet states that merges should be done safely with a judging time of 2 to 3 seconds behind the other vehicle. In this case, obviously, that wasn’t attained. So the move had to automatically be marked as an “unsafe” act, even though RP judged the situation and its specific circumstances, and made the only move that she thought was possible.

In any case, did you know that the moment an “unsafe act” is committed, the driver is automatically disqualified from passing? Even if the rest of the test showed mastery of all other driving skills, and yes, even if the Random Person showed in two other instances that she could indeed merge safely on to the highway, when the conditions were a little more ideal and less unusual. That is, even if that unsafe act was a tiny, unusual blip in an otherwise near-perfect driving experience, it’s an automatic fail. Apparently, driving examiners aren’t allowed to look at the bigger picture—or this one examiner chose not to—and must grade on any one disqualifying action.

If real life were like that driving test, I’d wager that 3/4 of the drivers that I see on the road every day would be disqualified. Because there are many instances that can come up every day when a driver is faced with a sudden or unusual condition, and must act quickly to get around that, but which action might be considered “unsafe”. A rig-driver suddenly slows down or brakes beside a merging lane. A mattress falls off the pick-up truck in front. A kid or an animal suddenly darts out into the road. A tire on an adjacent vehicle blows, and the vehicle suddenly veers into others. A driver confronted with any of these circumstances would have to do something like suddenly jerk the wheel to the side, or be forced to eliminate that safe 2 to 3 seconds of space between vehicles.

Sure, to an examiner who has checkboxes on a piece of paper, these movements would be considered “unsafe”. But in reality, we Random People could say that we reacted and manoeuvered in the best way we could, without endangering lives. If we can show that the one incident was a small blemish on a near-spotless record, then we should be allowed to pass. So I’ll still argue vigorously that the method of testing drivers should be looked at differently, or perhaps the checkboxes be altered to allow for unusual circumstances, or the people doing the checking be allowed to grade with an eye to understanding the specific circumstances surrounding “unsafe” moments.

Arguing for a change to the system doesn’t change my any Random Person’s test result, but there’s never any harm in mounting a self-defence.