Sunday, September 07, 2008

End the Impunity

In this country, or at least in this province and city, drivers who kill people can expect a light punishment, unless of course they kill themselves as well. Although the public appears to have no sympathy when reckless or drunk drivers kill themselves or their friends, we appear to have a distinct disinclination to punish the same kind of driving when people engaged in it kill other people.

While this seems inconsistent, it makes sense for people who want the law to overlook driving errors. If a dangerous driver kills himself or herself, showing sympathy would imply the need for a law to encourage people to behave responsibly. If they kill someone else, then we can expect to hear the argument that however egregious the offence, ruining the life of the driver at fault will not bring the victim back. These contradictory positions add up to a single effective demand: impunity for bad or even homicidal drivers. As a rule, you can expect that no matter how egregious the driving behaviour and no matter how many innocent people it endangers, someone will come forward and defend it.

I believe the time has come, for the sake of all road users, and to promote some kind of responsibility within automotive culture, to demand an end to impunity for dangerous and irresponsible drivers. Committing mayhem with a car should draw the same penalties as mayhem with any other lethal instrument, and the penalties should reflect the harm done, not the tool used. That means we should punish dangerous driving pretty much the way we punish dangerous shooting, and dangerous driving causing death the way we punish dangerous shooting causing death. I believe we need to start seeing the wheel of a car as an awesome responsibility, rather than a quick ticket out of the consequences of misbehaviour.

2 comments:

FixedXorBroken said...

Great post, but how would such a change in our culture come about?

There is a lot of cultural inertia behind driving dangerously. Take a look at movies Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Deathrace 2000, etc or "sports" like nascar or F1. There is a whole industry based around driving fast and loose.

John Spragge said...

If we want to change the culture, I think we need to start by speaking out, which I have tried to do here. I strongly encourage other people to do the same.

I do not think the images of driving in the movies, or TV, or on the NASCAR track makes the odds against us that much worse. We watch James Bond without killing people. A whole office can enjoy watching a hockey game, cheer with real passion, and yet nobody even thinks of "dropping the gloves" and getting into a brawl, even at hotly contested meetings. We have a problem with the culture of driving, not because of what we enjoy watching on the track or the screen, but because of what too many people condone in real life.