Friday, September 08, 2006

Civility (I): Road Rage and Automotive Harassment

While Allison and I rode our bicycles down Jane Street in Toronto, a pickup truck came by and the driver yelled at Allison to "get off the road"; not nearly that politely. It left me wondering why, in a world where a single off-colour word to the wrong colleague at work can cost you your job, a driver's license seems to carry with it an unlimited license to insult anyone you like.

What, if any, reason do we have not expect drivers to practice basic courtesy? Adding an offence of "motor vehicle harassment" to the highway traffic act would not make everyone polite right away, but it would send a clear message that behaving courteously, like fastening your seat belt, contributes to safety on the road, and we expect drivers to do it.

The National Rifle Association has a slogan: "an armed society is a polite society". By that, of course, they mean that where people have the option to settle disputes violently, they think twice about getting into them. Unfortunately, we do not think of ourselves as armed when we slide behind the wheel. We don't often reflect that the average car has more explosive in its gas tank than a lot of suicide bombers carry on their belts, to say nothing of the trauma a two-ton steel battering ram can inflict. As a result, our roads often resemble an armed and rude society. If we want to do something about "road rage", or even just enjoy the benefits of civility, making it an offence to harass other road users or pedestrians from a car would go a long way.

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