REVIEW of REVIEWS

Driving Auto . Now a Science

All Drivers Should Pass Difficult Tests Before They Are Licensed.

POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY August 1 1930
REVIEW of REVIEWS

Driving Auto . Now a Science

All Drivers Should Pass Difficult Tests Before They Are Licensed.

POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY August 1 1930

Driving Auto . Now a Science

REVIEW of REVIEWS

All Drivers Should Pass Difficult Tests Before They Are Licensed.

POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

ARE you learning to drive a car? If . so, how are your co-ordinations this morning? Is your distance-judging all that it should be? Can you do two different things, one with each hand, simultaneously, and be certain of not getting them confused? If you fail in any one of these respects you are theoretically unfit to drive, and a peril to the community.

Such, at any rate, would seem to be the conclusion to be drawn from an article recently appearing in Popular Science Monthly; until its writer puts us once more at our ease by his last paragraphs. Here is some of what he says.

"The date is 1935, the scene a city traffic court. ‘You are charged,’ says the judge, ‘with reckless driving and endangering the lives of others. Your car, out of control, skidded and went over the curb at the corner of Broad and Main Streets. What have you to say?’

“ ‘It wasn’t my fault, Your Honor,’ protests the luckless driver. ‘The street was wet. The man in front of me stopped suddenly. I had to jam on my brakes, and I skidded.'

“ ‘It is evident from your statement,’ the judge replies, ‘first, that you were travelling faster than was safe under road conditions; second, that you were too near the man in front of you; third, that you don't know how to operate a brake on a rainy day. A fine will not improve your driving. Instead, I sentence you to instruction at the municipal training school for automobile drivers until you know how to drive on a rainy day.’ "Fantastic? Not according to Dr. Knight Dunlap, Johns Hopkins University psychologist, who advocates teaching, instead of fining, erring motorists. He is in a position to know. As chairman of its division of anthropology and psychology, he recently organized and conducted for the National Research Council a unique programme of psychological tests tor automobile operators—the first of their kind ever made. Novel mechanical devices dissected and classified, for hundreds of subjects, the many kinds of ability that safe driving requires.

“In one test of eye, hand, and foot co-ordination, subjects sat at the wheel of a dummy automobile with the steering gear, brake, and clutch of a car, and an electric seat that registered the ‘driver’s’ movements. Six feet in front, an illuminated chart represented a road,.

"Along this imaginary highway the subject drove his car. One pointer on the chart showed the course of the test car. Another pointer represented an imaginary vehicle coming toward it. The driver was supposed to steer the test car so as to avoid an imaginary collision with the oncoming car. It was hard to dodge, for mechanism gyrated the approaching pointer as if a reckless driver were at the

wheel. If the subject properly applied his controls, an automatic device cut off the power and stopped the pointer. For this the subject received a perfect score. One interesting fact this test revealed was that men are more active behind a steering wheel than women.

“A dummy traffic light stood beside the imaginary thoroughfare in some tests, and changing lights gave stop and start commands. Thus the best position of traffic lights for visibility was determined. Also, this test helped to show which drivers were prone to ‘jump’ the red lights.

“A ‘noise barrage’ was the means of testing a driver’s lack of ‘emotional stability’—in other words his tendency to fly off the handle or become confused by strange sights and noises. The subject sat in a padded chair, a pair of electrified handles in his hands. These carried a current far too mild to be felt, for the object was to detect the extremely delicate electric changes in the body itself. Suddenly, bells clanged. Lights flashed crazily. Buzzers whirred. A gun cracked, so close that the subject could smell the burning powder. Meanwhile a delicate galvanometer, an electric meter in the next room, measured the subject’s ability to keep calm. Few but truck drivers survived this test.

“A motorist’s ability to judge motion and distance was measured by a pointer that moved across an opening between two screens and then disappeared behind them. It was travelling steadily. The subject was asked to stop it by pressing a button, when he thought it had travelled a specified distance behind one of the screens.

“Other tests measured a subject's eyeand-hand co-ordination, his ability to do two things at once, and his heart action. For the first, a subject tried to plug an electrified peg into a hole in a brass disc that zigzagged elusively in front of him. Then he tried to keep two ‘Cartesian divers,’ little rubber floaters in separate

tubes of water, from touching bottom by manipulating an air pump with each hand at the same time. Finally he ran five steps up and down a special stepladder, so that his heartbeats could be observed.

“The main value of such tests is that they provide basic information about motorists that never before was available. How far they can be applied directly in judging any individual motorist’s qualifications for a driver’s license is a question. That they should be interpreted with caution is emphasized by Dr. Duniap himself. Quickness of response, he points out as an example, is not always desirable in driving. The man who sets his brakes suddenly may endanger another driver behind him. Thus a simple psychological test to measure a man’s speed of action is not alone a sufficient index of his good driving. A more complicated test to measure his speed of correctly deciding what to do, instead of merely acting on snap judgment, is open to the criticism that a man may do one thing in the laboratory and another on the road.

"The best kind of examination for drivers at present, Dr. Dunlap says, is simply a rigorous test for a driver’s license such as many states now demand. At least such tests compel the driver to learn something of running a car and of traffic laws. It would be a good thing for an inspector to flunk a few candidates occasionally, just to emphasize that a man must practise thoroughly before he is competent to drive alone. The ideal driver, Dr. Dunlap declares, is the man who acts automatically without having to stop and think.

“So the task now before the experts is to develop, with these basic tests as a guide, some way of barring the unsafe driver from the road and giving its free use to all others. Few unsafe drivers are born that way, and the majority can be taught to drive safely, Dr. Dunlap contends. This training in the fundamentals of driving is the present need.”