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Column: What is the future of driver training?

The future of our young drivers just might focus on how to monitor and oversee autonomous driving systems.
Midale tractor drivers
It is still true to this day that many youth who have a rural or farm background are more comfortable behind the wheel than those who are raised in a city.

WEYBURN - Recently I was helping my son with some in-car driving practice to help him get comfortable behind the wheel of a vehicle so that he feels ready to take the practical driving exam. Many of the rules of the road have not changed since I was young.

However, due to technology, there are many changes that our youth have access to now that were not around even 10 years ago. Some cars now have a button that can be pushed and the car parallel parks by itself. I cannot imagine how much easier that would have made things for me when I was a youth taking my driving exam.

Then we get into the new technology of self-driving cars, which claims that a computer is capable of operating the vehicle with reduced or no human input.

I spent hours of practice and patience helping my son to be alert to the dangers of the road, and training him to respond to sudden conditions that could happen at any time. Studies and reports are divided as to how safe a self-driving car truly is on the road. It seems we are closer to the vision of ‘The Jetsons’, where George and his family could just hop into their vehicle, and let a robot drive them to their destination.

How will this change the future of driving practices? Will it still be required and recommended for our youth? These are questions I do not have an answer for.

It does make me think back to how much harder it would have been for young people to learn how to drive during the horse-and-buggy days. Of course, part of their experience then was making sure their horses were fed, well-cared for, and in good condition for long trips.

It is still true to this day that many youth who have a rural or farm background are more comfortable behind the wheel than those who are raised in a city. After all, being involved in chores, and getting behind the wheel of a tractor or a seeder is all part of the day-to-day business of living on a family farm.

I am glad that driving training is offered at the school, as some youth seem to learn better from a teacher outside the house, rather than their own parent or guardian. It can be a little hard for a parent to accept too, having their child old enough to drive themselves. It sort of feels like you are the momma-bird pushing them out of the nest, and hoping that they take flight.

As more and more vehicle manufacturers introduce their own self-driving models, the future of our young drivers might not focus as much on the actual vehicle operation skills, and instead need to learn how to monitor and oversee the autonomous systems, so they can understand when to intervene and take manual control.

Even with advanced self-driving features being introduced into vehicles, the importance of safety and decision-making remains the key for drivers. It will always remain important to stay sober once you are behind the wheel of a vehicle, and that means no alcohol and no drugs. A clear mind is needed to react to emergency procedures and how to make quick, informed decisions.

For the foreseeable future, self-driving vehicles will share the road with other vehicles. Driver training will need to adapt to this mixed-traffic environment. The best any one can do is make sure they feel in control when they are on the road, and that they follow the rules of the road to arrive to their destination safely.