Tuesday, June 22, 2010

End the impunity. See what happens.

Jim Kenzie, among others, has claimed that, for no reason he cares to make explicit, Canadians will not stop driving cars and drivers will not change. I think he and people who think like him underestimate the intelligence and decency of the driving public. I think drivers would do the behave much better if the law and the culture around us sent a clear message about the right way to drive. Specifically, I think insisting drivers will never treat other road users respectfully makes it much less likely they will. Whatever the reason, this country suffers from a road death rate that makes it very likely that over a normal lifetime you will lose a family member or friend to a traffic crash. I have a modest proposal to change things.

End the impunity.

Recently, the courts convicted a driver for having a car illegally modified for street racing in a way that defeats important safety features, driving that car at a reckless speed, and causing a death. Having reached all those conclusions, the court sentenced the driver to one year in jail. This would not bother me as much as it does, if similarly reckless behaviour with firearms attracted a similar sentence. Someone who deliberately disconnected the smoke alarms in a house, or permitted someone else to, then behaved recklessly with matches and inflammables would face a charge of manslaughter, if not murder, should their behaviour kill someone.

With the series of judicial and police decisions over the past year, it seems hard to deny that dangerous drivers in this culture can expect a presumption of good faith and a leniency that few others can. If you pull the trigger, the courts assume you meant to shoot. If you strike the match, the courts assume you meant to burn. If you defeat the safety measures in your car, drive recklessly, and kill someone, the courts appear to assume that you meant to arive at your destination will everyone aboard well and hearty. This has reached a point where it amounts to impunity for drivers.

Let's end the impunity. Let's do whatever it takes to ensure the courts cannot presume good faith in the face of evidence of reckless conduct on the roads and tampering with safety features. If judges in this province regularly treat homicidal recklessness with motor vehicles as much less culpable than recklessness with guns or fire, then maybe the law should require minimum sentences. Maybe, then, drivers would treat the responsibility inherent in operating a vehicle capable of causing serious harm with more respect. If not, then at least offenders will receive proportionate punishment, whether they use a bumper or a bullet to kill.

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