June 27, 2004

Scooters and angst on the streets of Italy

Jackie D | Transport Miscellany

One of the better things about using public transport is that sometimes you happen upon free reading material. Usually, the only stuff that people leave behind are publications you'd never want to read anyway, but other times you pick up something interesting. So it was on Saturday when I found a copy of the weekend's issue of the International Herald Tribune on the Tube.

Apart from the best opinion piece on Bill Clinton ever written, there was a gem of an article on a new law in Italy that will see hundreds of thousands of scooter drivers there taken off the roads.

It used to be that anyone in Italy could legally drive a scooter, but a law that goes into effect next Thursday will see to it that only those who have passed a test to obtain a special mini-licence will be allowed to do so. It sounds as if the set-up for pre-test lessons is similar to how driver's ed is run in most US states -- either the course is offered for free at state schools, or for a fee at private driving schools.

The problem is, the demand for lessons isn't being met. Hundreds of thousands of teenagers are still waiting to take the course and the test. Many of them will risk driving without a licence come next Thursday, and there is a lot of anger amongst teens about the new law. Roberto Grassi, a researcher at the IARD Institue, which specialises in youth issues, says that for Italian kids, getting their scooter is a rite of passage into adulthood, symbolising independence and acceptance by one's peers.

"It must be looked at from a symbolic point of view rather than a means of transportation," he said.

He also argued that Italian teenagers remained unconvinced that the current law was necessary and that this could spawn a cultural clash with institutions and with the adult world.

"Try getting a 16-year-old to accept the fact that he can't ride his scooter because the schools are full," Grassi said.

Well, the whole cultural clash bit sounds good to me. Kids who refuse to passively accept the state line on new laws are the kind of kids we need. But what disturbs me about the piece is this line:
No one argues that the mini-licence is a bad idea.
Really? I find that, if true, very odd. There are all sorts of arguments as to why it could be a bad idea, and if none of the adults in Italy are making them and it really is left to the kids, then they're in more trouble than they think.

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Comments

This reminds me of the old two part motorcycle test back in the early eighties. Heralded by the government of the day as a means of improving motorcycle safety, it was little more than a series of hoops designed to discourage new motorcyclists - thereby reducing motorcycle accident figures.

If the Italian mini license is a similar exercise (and if it is comes from politicians this is highly likely) then it is a bad idea. If, however (and we can always hope) it is a means of providing new riders with the rudiments of a life skill and the encouragement to further develop then its a good idea.

No prizes I guess for which it is going to be?

Posted by Mark Ellott on June 27, 2004

Kinda seems like a government handout to those teaching the classes. In my experience, the driving lessons here in the states are worth only the piece of paper that you have to hand to the state to get your license. The actual learning is pretty sparse, due to a combination of those taking the class (who aren't particularly interested in the subject matter) and those teaching the class (who are generally pretty bored with it). Plus, there's really no substitute for experience in driving. No matter how much class time you get, or even in-car instruction, it's not the same as doing it yourself.

Could this be an attempt to get all these kids 'in the system'? What with databases and ID cards such a big deal lately, those interested in getting everyone accounted for would benefit from this kind of law. There's your 'paranoid' post for the day. :)

Posted by Highway on June 28, 2004

Highway, this is a common issue. People in the UK look upon learning to drive as getting a license, not gaining a life skill. If you ever find out how to change that point of view, I'd love to hear it...

Posted by Mark Ellott on June 28, 2004

It's quite unusual to make driver licensing laws stricter and to not provide a grandfather clause for people who are allowed to drive/something already. It is legal for me to ride a scooter or other motorbike with an engine of 50cc or less on British roads (even though I have never ridden one) because when I first got a British car license (in 1993) a separate license was not necessary to do so, whereas anyone who get a car license now is also required to get a separate license for a motorbike of any kind. Similarly, when the Belgians first introduced driver licences in the 1960s, they gave one to anybody who applied for one without any test, and only new drivers were required to be tested after that. This sort of situation - where you take away driving privileges from people who have them already - is most unusual, and I am sure they would not get away with it if the victims of it were adults and not children. (In this sort of situation a bureaucratic SNAFU in which people can't get licences even if they want to is pretty much inevitable, too).

Posted by Michael Jennings on June 28, 2004

Also might I suggest that "Italian teenagers remained unconvinced that the new law was necessary" appears to me to directly contradict the statement that "No-one argues that the mini-licence is a bad idea", unless teenagers somehow don't count as people.

Posted by Michael Jennings on June 28, 2004

Exactly my point, Michael. If nothing else, this is another example of the ridiculous mindset that many journalists work within, and how it taints their output. The message that the only people stupid enough to question the wisom of this idea are teenagers springs forth from one of the axioms of many journalists: that state regulation is obviously a good thing.

Posted by Jackie D on June 29, 2004

Or simply that they are so caught in their mindset that they are capable of making that observation without realising that they have stated the precise opposite earlier in the article.

And these people probably believe that Orwell was on their side.

Posted by Michael Jennings on June 29, 2004

The simplest explanation is the one I find most likely: teenagers don't count as people, at least not as rational people. In "civilized" countries, they are consistently classed as children.

Posted by Ken on June 29, 2004

Actually, Ken, I find that very strange. On the continent (and this is something people are always going on about, because it's true and makes Britons look bad), children are taken to proper grown-up restaurants from a very early age and expected to act like quiet, polite adults. And so they learn quite young how to go to restaurants without turning it into a time to run around screaming like a banshee. And they drink wine with their meals, and are just more grown up in every way, especially compared to their British counterparts (or so we're told).

If anyone should be regarding these teenagers as actual people (and more to the point, as future voters), it's the Europeans.

Posted by Jackie D on June 29, 2004

And the fact that they are allowed to ride motor scooters at all (with or without a licence) suggests that they are being treated like adults in a way that would not be the case in Britain, also.

Posted by Michael Jennings on June 30, 2004

The "so we're told" is probably relevant here. Quite a few of my friends have had jobs looking after mainland European teenage kids at summer schools. Mature, civilised, unscreaming, single-glass-of-wine-with-dinner mini-adults they weren't. Not that they should be, of course.

Posted by john b on July 7, 2004

"Mature, civilised, unscreaming, single-glass-of-wine-with-dinner mini-adults they weren't. Not that they should be, of course."

And just why shouldn't they be? It seems like our ultimate goal should indeed be to turn them into mature, civilized, unscreaming, single-glass-of-wine-with-dinner adults, and stalling in this task only lengthens the time that we must deprive them of the blessings of Liberty for their own good. I see no advantage whatsoever in that.

Posted by Ken on July 10, 2004

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