The body count mounts on a weekly basis and politicians seem helpless to do anything about it. They talk about it; throw money into Royal Commissions; and even tighten the laws. They’ve even had some success, as the death toll each year is less and less, but lives are still being lost at an alarming rate.
They can talk all they want about social-economic conditions; the variety of reasons behind each occurrence; but nothing changes the fact that people are dying on a daily, if not more frequent, basis. This intolerable situation must be stopped.
The question of course is how? Everybody has their own answer: enforce existing laws to the maximum, change the laws to impose harsher penalties, and, of course, look at the social-economic climate that creates the circumstances that allow these deaths to occur. Some people say that if you took the means out of the hands of people, than the death rate could be eliminated, but, given current societal conditions, that’s probably impractical as well as impossible.
Nobody who owns or drives a vehicle is very likely to surrender ownership, or give up their right to drive, just on the off chance that it might save some lives. The right to drive and own a car might as well be written into the constitution of North American culture. Vehicular ownership has become a modern inalienable right.
What did you think I was talking about, guns? Guns are penny ante in Canada when it comes to being a cause of death compared to the carnage caused by cars and trucks. As of 2004, according to Statistics Canada, vehicular deaths outnumber homicides by almost 5 to 1. Bill McCauley, spokesman for Statistics Canada, is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “We don’t call them accidents, we call them crashes or collisions. Most of them could have been avoided.”
Drunk driving of course causes 40% of the fatalities among drivers, while nearly a third of the fatalities among passengers is caused by a refusal to wear a seat belt. In other words, what looks to be about 70% of all traffic deaths are preventable. That translates into roughly 1900 of the 2730 driving fatalities in 2004 in Canada were caused because someone had broken the law.
But driving deaths aren’t sexy. You don’t get the same photo op, posing at the twisted wreckage of a pick-up truck on some back road as you do posing with sub-machine guns. Nobody raises a stink when a somebody gets off with a fine for a drunk driving first offence, even though your chances of being killed by someone like them are five times greater than your chances of being gunned down.
If there were anything that just might be considered an equal, if not greater, sacred cow than the gun in the United States, it would have to be the car. In Canada, where we don’t have the history associated with armaments, a driver’s licence holds pride of place in a person’s wallet over a weapons permit, allowing cars to rule the roost.
In most parts of North American society the obtainment of the driver’s licence marks the first right of passage into adulthood. Most jurisdictions grant this first symbol of maturity to its citizens at the age of sixteen. After some basic instruction, and familiarization with the laws governing the roads, this small square of plastic with your picture on it grants you the right to control close to a one thousand pounds of metal and glass, propelled on four wheels by an engine with the power of over three hundred horses.
Leaving aside all the innuendo about males and compensation for sexual impotency (how much thrust does your engine have), you put any person inside a midsize or larger vehicle and I defy them to remember their circumstances. It’s one thing to be driving in a compact or small car and see the road whizzing by right outside your window; it’s another altogether to sit in genuine Corinthian leather comfort with the road no more then an annoying buzz on your soundtrack.
When you are as distanced from the road as much as modern vehicles allow you to be, it is far easier to forget that there can be potentially fatal consequences from one moment of inattention. With people now driving anything form reconditioned battle-wagons (Humvees) to massive pickup trucks and turbo charged SUVs in order to make the drive to work in a little more comfort, the problem is severely exacerbated.
We may not be able to kill ourselves as easily behind the wheel of one of those vehicles. But anyone driving a small or compact car probably can’t help experiencing a moment of panic when they see one of those monsters showing up in their rear view mirror. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind who the winner will be in the case of a vehicular argument.
The status that comes with owning one of these vehicles far outweighs any other consideration. Why else would you own something like a four-wheel drive, eight cylinder, all terrain vehicle for picking up the dry cleaning? The car companies, of course, pander to this by producing vehicles that have less to do with road awareness, and more to do with style, comfort and image.
Now, you wouldn’t want your government to have any control over things like status and style (at least no one who’s been around recently; Pierre Trudeau had a certain panache that probably would have made him an acceptable style tyrant), so their role in this has to come in somewhere else. The laws need to be changed so that there is zero tolerance when it comes to careless and drunk driving.
Anybody whose driving is clearly at blame for an accident shouldn’t be allowed to drive. If it was caused by proven negligence, then their licence should be revoked immediately upon conviction. No exceptions. No compromise should be acceptable when human lives are at risk.
In Canada, where any prison sentence of more than two years results in doing time in a federal penitentiary, any drunk driving conviction should include a sentence of more than two years and permanent loss of the right to drive a motorized vehicle. Any drunk driver that ends up killing somebody else should automatically be charged with manslaughter. In fact any driver whose carelessness results in someone’s death should be treated in the same manner as any other person charged with a killing.
If a lawyer can prove mitigating circumstances that reduces culpability, so be it. But in the case of a drunk driver, who has committed the crime the second he or she climbed behind the wheel of a vehicle and started the engine, there should be no allowances.
Obviously there are circumstances where a driver is placed in a position where the inevitable is unavoidable. Lawmakers will have to make very clear definitions on what should and shouldn’t constitute an avoidable incident. Police officers are already conversant in figuring out the circumstances of a collision; who’s at fault and what, if any, traffic violations were committed. They would continue to follow their normal procedures, but now lay different charges.
But for some reason our lawmakers lack the will necessary to bring new laws onto the books concerning vehicular misconduct. At the risk of sounding cynical, it would almost seem like they are willing to sacrifice a couple of thousand lives each year rather than implement laws that might prove unpopular.
But what they fail to understand is that the majority of drivers would have no problem with a zero tolerance attitude towards careless and endangering others while driving. Since they are the ones sharing the roads with the danger, they have the most to gain from better protection.
You’d think that a society that expresses concern over the senseless death of people through gunfire and other forms of violent crime would have laws in place for an activity that claimed five times the number of lives. But according to our current laws, a life lost to a drunk or reckless driver is not as valuable as someone shot down in the road.
If a body ends up dead on the street it shouldn’t matter how it ended up there; the punishment needs to be equal.