Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dangerous Driving

Are you a homicidal maniac when driving your car? When riding your bike?

Read this editorial from Montreal's Hour Magazine's lead columnist Jamie O'Meara, and answer the question: "Is he talking about me?"

(Link to original article)

November 15th, 2007
Babylon, P.Q.

Keeping the drive alive
Jamie O'Meara

Asshole drivers, while not unique to Montreal, nonetheless share a non-partisan, non-gender-specific, reasonably accommodated ubiquity that makes one wonder if there isn't something in the way that we are acculturated here that predisposes to homicidal driving.

I'm almost tempted to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the Villeneuves - racing father and son Gilles and Jacques respectively - for instilling a righteous sense of cultural inheritance amongst drivers here who believe they were created in the image of the father and the son. Unfortunately for Québécois concepts of nationhood, aggressive driving isn't unique to Quebec, even though sometimes it sure as hell feels like it. Case in point, the spectacular multiple rollover at St-Laurent and Maisonneuve this past weekend, injuring four young women in a single car which witnesses say was speeding and weaving through traffic - shocking (mainly because it wasn't on the 15 coming in from Laval) and yet somehow not.

Idiot road warriors are made, and to a huge extent self-made, not born. And while there are those who would swear aggressive driving is in the DNA around here, it has more to do with social passivity and general acceptance when it comes to tolerating excessive speed and daredevilism. Romancing risk-taking is nothing new, but romancing morons is. We facilitate it; we encourage it by accepting it as part of the character of the place, that there is somehow something uniquely and proudly Montreal about driving like a self-centred twat.

I have seen otherwise reasonable and responsible people morph into potential negligent murderers with the turn of a car key. It happened to 18-year-old Brandon Pardi and an unnamed 17-year-old two weeks ago when they allegedly ran over, and confirmedly killed, three-year-old Bianca Leduc after speeding through a residential area. Little more than kids themselves, if convicted they have earned themselves a new designation: killers. And that's the problem - we don't treat them as such.

In 2004, the last time figures were tabled, 2,725 drivers across Canada were killed and a further 212,000 injured in car accidents, the vast majority of which were caused by dangerous driving. In August the L.A. Times reported that, in 2006, 1.2 million people were killed on the world's roads, versus an estimated 100,000 people in combat in all the wars around the planet. In the U.S. alone there were 42,642 driving fatalities. So nobody is pretending the automobile is safe. Every time someone steps behind the wheel, there is the potential to kill or be killed - it's a calculated risk we take, with those calculations predicated on a maximum factor of safety.

But when drivers begin playing with the equation, throwing in a little adrenalized acceleration here, a little manoeuvring machismo there, then they are fully, 100 per cent cognizant that the probability of maiming or killing someone rises. There is an acceptance of the fact that they are placing themselves and others at risk, and therefore there is criminal onus. They have, in the instant of that decision, become aspirant killers.

In Ontario, travelling in excess of 50 km/h over the posted limit gets your licence suspended immediately for one week, your car towed and impounded for the same period, and a fine ranging from two to 10 grand. It is not enough.

This past Wednesday the provincial Liberals will have introduced (or attempted to introduce) legislation proposing a number of changes to Quebec's highway safety code. If successful, it will double the fine for speeding, ban drivers from using cellphones unless they are hands-free, decrease blood-alcohol limits from .08 to .05, require obligatory driving lessons for beginners, and institute a photo radar pilot project in as many as 15 different locations. It is not enough.

Most of the teeth in these amendments are rooted in increased monetary penalties, though raising fines for people who may have ample means at their disposal for paying them does not provide much of a disincentive for the crap driving to which they've become accustomed. On the other hand, in select circumstances, automatic jail time, and a criminal record, would work wonders. The select circumstances I speak of are street racing, which has been a virtually unchecked source of heartbreak right across the country. (There is no proof, as yet, that those alleged to have killed Bianca Leduc were street racing.)

I am no fan of mandatory sentencing. In fact, in just about every other circumstance I can think of, I am diametrically opposed to it. But in the case of convictions for street racing, extreme negligent driving (speeding in excess of 50 km/h over the limit) and other forms of reckless endangerment that clearly carry with it the potential for serious injury or death, I see no other workable solution. With respect to street racing, for example, an automatic two months in the can (for a first conviction, bump it up to six or a year for a second offence), a $10,000 fine, seizure of the vehicle (provided it's not family owned) and a five-year licence suspension would do wonders toward eradicating street racing. The terms could be tailored with respect to other offences, like speeding.

Hard-assed? Hardly. Even that may not be enough.


At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Following Ontario's laws to impound cars immediately when drivers are caught speeding is a great idea. It was a bad idea to eliminate mandatory driver's ed theory in the first place.

Since bike baths are so intertwined with street traffic, a new law should be established about the amount of space a driver must allow between himself and a cyclist. In my perfect world, 5 demerit points to the driver who passes too quickly and too close to me. p


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