Why aren’t cars designed so that unlicensed drivers can’t drive them?

transportation alternatives
© Cyclists ready for Transportation Alternatives NYC Century Bike Tour

This past weekend, four cyclists in a group bike ride organized by Transportation Alternatives were stopped at a red light when they were hit by a drunk driver with a suspended licence. One cyclist suffered critical injuries. It raises the question once again: Why aren’t cars designed and engineered to prevent this from happening? According to a writer on Natural Cyclection, there is an easy fix – smart chipped drivers’ licences.

Chipped ID card© Chipped ID card via Natural Cyclection

Suppose we equipped licenses with smart chips (the gold square thing in the figure below). Smart chip equipped licenses (for convenience I will refer to this as a “smart licenses”) can conveniently and inexpensively improve street safety by preventing people lacking a valid license from driving.

After all, keys are problematic; you can lose them or people can steal them. We don’t have keys to our smart phones or keys to our computers, but instead we have fingerprints and personal passwords and PINs. If cars had card readers instead of keys (or as well as keys) then smart cards could be turned off if a licence was expired or removed. Card readers are not expensive, and in fact are probably cheaper than the fancy smart keys that new cars come with.

This would prevent people from driving without licences, would tie particular drivers to cars (so people couldn’t deny it was them driving), could restrict drivers with different licence types from driving when they shouldn’t be. (Like learning drivers or older ones with limited vision from driving at night.)

It’s one thing to grab a set of keys; it’s quite another to steal someone’s smart licence and PIN number. The author notes that currently, we “pretend roadway deaths are 'just accidents' and let killer drivers off lightly.”

The only solution that benefits everybody is to make streets safer – something we can get much closer to if cars themselves were a means to enforce the requirement that all drivers have a license.

Of course, this all begs the questions of why cars are designed to go so fast, why they are allowed to be full of distractions like radios and screens that let you watch the kids in the back seat, or why SUVs and pickup trucks don’t have to be designed to the same safety standards for pedestrians as cars are.


But then we know the answer to that – because nothing shall interfere with the individual’s freedom to buy and drive a big two ton piece of heavy machinery down city streets at high speed.

Tags: Bikes | Biking | New York City

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