Should drivers be required to have ongoing training? (5×8 – 4/13/12)

Facing the driving emergency, a Parkinson’s breakthrough, spunky kids and the prom, the Best Buy scandal, and gondoliering the spoon and cherry.


The tragic story of a 19 year old man who jumped out of his car when its tire blew out on the Mendota Bridge is a painful reminder that car drivers are ill trained. The other day — the day I took off from NewsCut — I was taking an every-two-years mandated three-hour flight review to prove I can fly an airplane safely. The flight instructor pulled all the power at one point, simulating an engine failure (hope we didn’t scare you when we got low over your field, Norwood Young America farmer), and I had to call upon training to make an emergency landing properly. We went through several other emergency scenarios. And we spent an hour on the ground reviewing regulations and procedures. What if we required that of people who drive cars?

When we’re taught how to drive, there’s no focus on the things that can go wrong and the way emergencies can be safely addressed. We have no requirements for staying proficient at a dangerous task from the time we’re given the driver’s license at 16 or 17, and the time a relative finally takes the keys away from us in our 80s.

Would it be an undue burden? What if we just required people to watch a two-minute video every few years?


There are only a few diseases more horrible than Parkinson’s. There’s no happy ending with a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Or is there? Some researchers in the UK say they’ve created a gene therapy that reversed the effects of the disease in a woman. They’re warning it’s not a cure, just a life-changer.

(No video? Go here.)


The kid at Tartan High School in Oakdale who asked a porn star to the prom got a lot of news coverage. Pfft! Anybody can ask a porn star to a prom. It takes real pluck to woo a date via the Minnesota Timberwolves. Seen at last night’s game:


The kid showed more guts than the team.

Meanwhile, in Fargo, a young woman found out two days before the prom that she can’t go. She’s got the $700 dress she’s been working to pay for, and she’s got a date. She’s also got a detention.


From the sound of things, there’s more to the Brian Dunn scandal than simply an affair with a 29-year old woman. The Star Tribune reports an “elite legal team” has been brought in to investigate disgraced CEO Brian Dunn. And the story is gaining national steam.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


This week’s NewsCut props for chasing a dream go to Rachel Knoll, who sees Venice in the Sculpture Garden.

Bonus I: It’s been a complaint festival in recent months in Minnesota as newcomers regale us with their stories of how much they dislike the non-welcoming atmosphere in the state. The people who love it here don’t get much coverage, but this thread on Reddit (ignore the crowd-surfing politician looking for attention) should be required reading if we need reminding of why people live here.

This story, in particular, warms the heart:

I was 13 or so and helping my godparents with a show in an Ely B&B. My parents were cooking, my godparents were serving/hosting, and I was just in the back, doing dishes. This was a while back, so Charlie Parr and Dave Simonett were just playing to a small crowd, maybe 40 people or so. I spent the night in the kitchen so I didn’t see either of them play.

Then, at about 11pm, after the show was over and everybody had left, my godfather came in and handed me a plate of Tiramisu and asked me to come out to the dining room.

7 chairs were pulled up in a circle, and we all sat down with our desserts. My dad and Dave began a discussion of Lucinda William’s “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road”, and then Charlie pulls out guitars for each of them and they play the whole album, from start to finish, all from memory.

Since then, I’ve dreamed of being able to have that experience again–listening to wonderful musicians improvise and laugh with loon calls and wildlife echoing across the lake outside.

Friday morning rouser, anyone?

Bonus II: You could live in the hills…

(h/t: Adam McCune)

… which reminds me. My sister stopped to take a picture of this house on the backroads of Maine yesterday, specifically with the NewsCut audience in mind:



Former Sen. John Edwards is standing trial on charges relating to secret payments allegedly made to keep an extramarital affair secret. Before the affair was revealed, Edwards was a popular politician with a promising future. Today’s Question: When have you felt let down by a politician you believed in?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Stories of bad employees.

Second hour: Rebecca Kolls on spring gardening.

Third hour: Friday Roundtable. Guests: David Cazares, MPR News editor; Larry Jacobs, professor of political science and director of the Humphrey Institute’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance; Jose Leonardo Santos, anthropologist and associate professor of social science at Metro State.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, speaking yesterday at the U of M about his decade as mayor.

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: A conversation with two astronauts on board the space station about research in microgravity.

Second hour: Can you learn about humans by studying ants?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The Legislature is due back on Monday, and GOP leaders hope to finish the session soon. But there are still big disagreements over major issues including the bonding bill and a Vikings stadium. So what does the Legislature have to do and what will it do? MPR’s Tom Scheck has the answers.

NPR profiles Haiti’s capital city. Port-au-Prince is the size of Chicago, but it has no sewer system, cholera is spreading rapidly, but there are signs of progress.

  • Absolutely I think drivers should have ongoing training. Not just for emergencies, but also for just the basics. How many existing drivers out there would be able to pass a written exam?

    For example, one of my bicycle riding friends gets yelled at for being on the road. Never mind that’s where bikers are supposed to be. Are these drivers even aware of the laws? If drivers had to pass the written exam when renewing their licenses, perhaps they’d take the time to review current state laws on driving, bicycles and pedestrians.

    As all teenagers are told, driving isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. Existing drivers should at least be reminded of this through stronger renewal procedures.

  • jon

    Driving has become a “right” in it’s own quirky kind of way in the states…

    I personally thing that every one should be required to know how to do a quick safety inspection on their car and some basic maintenance (filling tires with air, putting in Gasoline, replacing a fuse, putting the spare on, checking fluid levels, perhaps even adding/replacing fluids, and knowing when/what it means when fluids need to be added etc.)

    Take the “run away Toyota issue” for example. I’ve yet to hear of one that ended with out incident, while brake will over heat and become ineffective if they are constantly fighting the engine, the engine can always be stopped with the ignition, or disconnected from the wheels with the gear shifter… but no one seemed to do that, the first reaction was always “PANIC!” followed by “SOMETHING STUPID!”

    Drivers in the US are terribly undertrained in areas that matter, and required to be massively over trained in areas that are questionable (parallel parking is still required, as is the 90 degree backup into a parking spot, but most drivers never do either of these things. And if Parking lots are any indication most drivers don’t know how to take up only one space when they pull into a spot.)

    When I learned to drive from my dad it we spent days out on ice and snow in a pickup truck with sand bags in the back/front/sides where ever else he could find to put them that helped the whole truck handle in new and interesting ways… and then we tried to drive it like it was a sport car in a James Bond film.

  • It would be great if drivers took that act of driving as seriously as pilots take the act of flying. Unfortunately, most people consider driving a right, rather than a privilege.

    There is a burgeoning industry that can provide advanced driver training to drivers so that they are able to handle emergencies better. Some of those schools are better than others. There are “skid schools” that teach racing-type techniques for getting out of skids, or loss of control circumstances. The downside of these kinds of schools is that it tends to give drivers an overconfidence in their abilities and they then drive more aggressively. The best advanced classes teach drivers how to recognized avoid the most common crash scenarios so that they don’t encounter them in the first place. The best way to avoid a crash is to avoid the scenario.

    However, let me swing the discussion a bit toward a focus on the improvement of the learning condition for teens. In Minnesota, the state requires that teens have only 30 hours of driving time with a parent or guardian before they become licensed. This is well below the national average, and below what most feel is an acceptable amount of driving.

    Experience and parental involvement are the two most important factors in making teens safer, smarter drivers. Yet, while Minnesota has a legislative mandate (inadequate as it is) it provides parents with virtually no information about how to best make use of that time. Drivers Ed schools are limited in their ability to teach teens. They have them for only a short time. It’s up to the parents to make sure that teens are truly good drivers.

    For the sake of full disclosure, I run a non-profit (Safe Roads Alliance) that gives states material which can be distributed to parents for just that purpose, to make the learners permit period truly effective. There is no cost to the states, no cost to parents.

    Driving and cars have changed since most of learned to drive. ABS, seat belts, air-bags, distractions, and laws are all much different than just a few years ago.

    Here’s a basic question that most adults get wrong – because the technology in cars has changed. Where should your hands be on the steering wheel?

    11 and 1?

    10 and 2?

    9 and 3?

    8 and 4?

    Most adults answer 10 and 2, because that’s how we were taught. But with airbags, most experts recommend 9 and 3 (sometimes 8 and 4).

  • Jim!!!

    I wondered why Mendota was barricaded last night. So sad. I’m terrified of my teens driving on their own. There are so many dangers out there and so many people who don’t know the rules.

    Here’s a couple it seems like a high percentage of drivers don’t seem to have learned:

    Turn your lights on when it’s raining or snowing (or dark).

    Know the difference between “YIELD” and “MERGE” signs.

  • Kassie

    @jon- I parallel park every single day. As do thousands of other Minnesotans living in the city. I’d say parallel parking is an absolutely needed skill.

    I don’t think ongoing training is needed. Most drivers are good drivers. Most can handle emergency situations. The ongoing cost for training would be very expensive.

    I’d like to add, that part of the reason people wouldn’t pass a written test is because the laws aren’t followed regularly. It is illegal to park within 30 feet of a stop sign or stop light, but all over Minneapolis and St. Paul there are parking spots with meters within 30 feet of stop signs and stop lights. How are people supposed to know the rules when we are encouraged to break them?

  • Nick

    I’ve often wondered how many fewer accidents there would be if driver’s training involved getting something like an associate’s degree from a two-year college. Yeah, I know it’s completely insane, but just imagine it: you could have a core curriculum that covered all the basics of driving as well as things like bad weather conditions and basic car maintenance. You could have electives in things like electronic systems, automotive history and auto finance. Most importantly you would have hours and hours of actual on-the-road instruction and testing. I think it goes without saying that it would be a much safer world if driver’s training were taken this seriously. Unfortunately, it would mean treating driving as privilege rather than an entitlement, which Americans would never go for.

  • BenCh

    If I am seeing this right, the canoe at the Cherry on the Spoon had no life-jackets. Which is unsafe and illegal.

  • Ed

    Most drivers are good drivers when they choose to be fully engaged. Unfortunately there are many other challenges that complicate this.

    I would support some kind of recurrent training for driving. I would also support more severe penalties for unsafe driving. I think that the heavier the vehicle is the more damage you are capable of inflicting. Maybe the penalty for moving violations should increase with the weight of the vehicle.

  • Bonnie

    This young man’s life story is so incredibly tragic I can’t even begin to imagine. He must have been very confused and frightened and perhaps was imagining something worse than a blown tire was happening to him.

    The car I now drive barely resembles the car I learned to drive at age 16! I have had to re-learn many things, and I agree with Jim!!!.

    The rules and equipment keep changing but I’m not sure how we could effectively and efficiently re-test people.

  • Kevin

    Where can I get a PhD in tire blowouts?

  • MikeB

    Those involved in certain accidents or serious driving mishaps should be required to attend a driving safety course. Start with those who have issues then determine if it is needed for others.

  • Disco

    $700 for a prom dress. That’s the lesson right there. She should stay home and think about that. She needs to learn some financial responsibility; evidently her parents didn’t teach her any.

    Admittedly I’m male and never attended a prom, but I still think it’s excessive and irresponsible.

  • Bob Collins

    That’s an interesting definition of personal responsibility. It’s not enough that she’s working to make the money she’s spending on the dress. She had to spend it how someone ELSE see fits? That doesn’t sound like personal responsibility. That sounds like being responsible to someone else’s idea.

    I suspect, btw, that the $700 actually includes getting hair done and such, too. Women pay $125 for what guys pay $14.95 for.

  • davidz

    I’ve long wished that EVERY driver had to take an over-the-road test each time their license was up for renewal. The kicker would be that the minimum score for passing a renewal would be higher than the score needed to pass initially.

    I figure that a new driver is allowed greater “slop” on the score, because much of good driving comes from practice and experience. Hence, less leeway should be given to those experienced drivers.

    Yes, this proposal means that we’d need a lot more driver testing staff.

    Yes, this proposal means that some people might fail their renewal tests and not be permitted to drive until they pass (or drive only with a provisional license, under more restrictive conditions).

    I also think that this would greatly cut down on accidents and near accidents that come from over confidence and the lack of vigilance that comes from not having to pay attention to the driving.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Kassie – “Most drivers are good drivers.”

    I wanna drive where YOU drive. 🙂

    I’m considering mounting a loud speaker on my vehicle with a recording that says, “That stick to the left of your steering wheel is a turn indicator. You paid for it, so you might as well use it!”

    Bonnie – Very insightful. The poor guy probably thought he was under attack. Had he been trained in emergency response for a blow out, that loud noise likely wouldn’t have resulted in his death.

  • Oh, no! I often yell at drivers, “It’s called a turn signal!”

    /Turning into Shapiro. The horror! heehee

  • Bob Collins

    I imagine requiring testing to keep a DL could gum up the Voter ID works a bit.

  • allie

    Sadly, retesting drivers probably isn’t as much of a PR issue for the public as it is a funding issue for the legislature. I suspect we’ve got bigger fish to fry before we get to allocating funding for driver retesting.

  • davidz


    I would imagine it’s easy enough to issue someone a state identity card based on their newly-revoked driver’s license (if they fail a test). Then they get to have a state ID w/o driving privileges.

    But then again, anything that gums up Voter ID is probably a good thing.

  • Tom K

    Re; Turn signals

    I swear – whenever I use my turn signal to indicate a lane change, the driver in the lane I’m moving to will speed up to make the space smaller (“You’re not getting in front of me!”). Then of course, they tailgate to show their unhappiness with my choice.

    Now, I signal while moving over. Less time to react.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Drae – “Turning into Shapiro. The horror!”

    ( Further evidence that given the opportunity, all intelligent beings will eventually evolve into radical, compassionate, iconoclastic libertarians 🙂

  • Danielle

    This is off-topic, but Tom K—I HATE it when people signal only as they are moving over a lane, especially when we’re trying to move into the same middle lane from different directions. Have you considered that you might subconsciously be slowing down slightly when you’re looking over to switch lanes?

  • Jackie

    As a mom with a kid who is chomping at the bit to learn how to drive (16) and a parent at the other end of the spectrum, I am all for mandatory retests every 10 years. It would help weed out those who should no longer be driving as well as provide employment for many driving examiners.

    Personally I’ll all for increasing the driving age to 18 or more so that people are more mature when they get their licenses (it’s a pre-frontal cortex thing – seriously).

    Full disclosure, my parents didn’t allow me to learn to drive until I was 21 and then it was because I was graduating from small town college and moving to the big city for a job. Even now, if I could ride the bus every day, I would.

    I agree with Bonnie and Shapiro on his reaction, it could very well have triggered a memory of past trauma.