Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pulse nightclub Orlando. Rest in peace, rise in glory

Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernandez, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Kimberly Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Jerald Arthur Wright

Editing the list of names of people killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando last Saturday brought home to me how long a list of names forty-nine victims makes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Would simplifying the laws help?

 A participant tests a text-while-driving simulator at the
Distracted Driving event aboard Marine Corps
Air Station Miramar, Calif., Nov. 4.
Ontario has a the provincial law on distracted driving. What would happen if we repealed it? The criminal code of Canada already has a section (249) prohibiting the operation of a powered vehicle or aircraft in a manner that endangers the public. Does anyone not think tooling down the road while taking a selfie, texting, or talking on a hand-held device endangers the public? Creating a special category of "distracted driving" allowed the legislature to create special (specially lenient) penalties. Dangerous driving carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Distracted driving carries a maximum sentence of a thousand dollar fine and three points on your license. The real distinction, however, kicks in if a distracted driver kills someone. Provincial laws do not increase the penalties for driving offences when a death or bodily harm results. If the province didn't have specific legislation on distracted driving, but rather a regulation requiring prosecutors to pursue charges of dangerous driving against distracted drivers, driving into someone and killing them while answering a text could mean up to a up to fourteen years in prison.

Section 252 of the criminal code of Canada prescribes penalties for leaving the scene of an accident. What if we replaced it by a law that made it a criminal offence to hit someone with a vehicle and injure or kill them? The law could allow drivers to present, as an affirmative defence, that they had operated according to the law and prudently given the conditions, and that the crash came about because of factors they could not control. A driver who left the scene of the crash would only escape criminal liability if they could escape detection indefinitely. Drivers who left the scene of a fatal crash would find it impossible to explain their behaviour, and the courts would convict and sentence them for the essential offence: killing someone with a motor vehicle.

Legal simplification only works if the courts will apply common sense when enforcing the law. It makes sense that when manually controlling an automobile that covers twenty meters every second, a person taking their eyes and concentration of the road for the thee seconds it takes to send a text endangers everyone within sixty meters, but how many dangerous driving charges did the police lay against texting drivers before the province passed the distracted driving law?

As long as we stay with the social convention that we will never require drivers to apply even the most rudimentary logic, that no act behind the wheel violates the law unless the law specifically prohibits it and a police officer witnesses it, we will always need more and more detailed laws. The penalties these laws prescribe will always fall between the need to deter and denounce truly dangerous behaviour, and the impulse to keep motoring available for everyone. We have to live with that situation, at least for now, but that does not mean we should accept it. In principle, fewer laws, backed by a social and legal consensus that we need not pay our road tolls in blood and that we ought not to condone behaviour that endangers other people, would serve us much better.