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What price is too high to pay to make streets safer?


Our police have been quite busy and productive lately in protecting the innocent from maniacal drivers on our streets and highways. In the past short while, on two different occasions, I’ve witnessed a driver making three lane changes at high speed within a few hundred feet and through heavy morning traffic.

No, it wasn’t on the highway; it was through an elementary school zone marked by a digital speed display, an overhead caution light and a freshly painted crosswalk.

More recently, in the same school zone during rush hour, a driver doing close to double the speed limit and barely missing a car turning onto the school grounds, chose to lean on the horn for a long, aggravated blast. 
The difference between the two cases? The first two knew they were driving dangerously but didn’t care. The other clearly had the brain of an addled hen’s egg, incapable of understanding the potential for carnage and annoyed with anyone who got in the way. In a school zone, this sort of wanton action could easily result in the end of life for a child full of hope and excitement, and, for doting relatives, a tragedy to live with forever.

Traffic enforcement officers and the media have done well lately in respectively issuing traffic citations and highlighting the life-changing events caused by reckless driving. That alone, though, won’t have a lasting effect. Also, highly paid police officers can’t be sitting around waiting for a speeder to come by when there are plenty of crimes already in progress. There’ll still be the $20,000, $30,000 or even an incredible $50,000 in unpaid fines out there for driving offences. How that is possible in an era of instant communication is difficult to understand.

The paradigm needs to change and the process needs to be multi-tiered, beginning with the novice driver program.
Although the Newfoundland graduated driver licensing program is quite rigorous and there are consequences if a driver is caught with any measurable blood alcohol content, too many people seem to be avoiding detection. As well, the ones who are caught get off quite easy with a two-month, first time suspension. A six-month suspension for a blood alcohol content infraction, as well as for any moving violations, and double that for second and subsequent occurrences, might be more appropriate.

The second branch would be a special mobile police unit comprising a mixture of new recruits and experienced officers reporting to a senior member. That would be highly mobile unit conducting traffic checks at any time anywhere in the province. A two-year program should be enough to get the message across.

Branch three would consist of cleaning up the outstanding fines file, ensuring that fines issued are paid within the time limit and tracking down those that are in arrears. That would likely involve court work and — with the law generally perceived as being on the side of the crook — would likely be a bottleneck in the process, but with persistence, will work.

That’s too much trouble some might say, and too expensive. Not when you consider the costs associated with even a minor collision. It’s not unusual to see two fire trucks, two ambulances and a few police cars at minor collision sites. There are the costs associated with hospital beds, specialist fees, insurance and post-treatment support. That’s only minor however, compared to the emotional cost to a parent of losing a child; of a child losing a parent or any other relative. That’s a cost that can’t be measured in dollars and cents and can’t be understood unless it happens to you.

Let’s hope for more responsible driving. Let’s stop calling collisions involving an impaired driver “accidents.” Let’s call them involuntary manslaughter and treat the driver accordingly.

Only significant action will curb the ever-increasing carnage on our street and highways.

Derm Browne, St. John’s

No, it wasn’t on the highway; it was through an elementary school zone marked by a digital speed display, an overhead caution light and a freshly painted crosswalk.

More recently, in the same school zone during rush hour, a driver doing close to double the speed limit and barely missing a car turning onto the school grounds, chose to lean on the horn for a long, aggravated blast. 
The difference between the two cases? The first two knew they were driving dangerously but didn’t care. The other clearly had the brain of an addled hen’s egg, incapable of understanding the potential for carnage and annoyed with anyone who got in the way. In a school zone, this sort of wanton action could easily result in the end of life for a child full of hope and excitement, and, for doting relatives, a tragedy to live with forever.

Traffic enforcement officers and the media have done well lately in respectively issuing traffic citations and highlighting the life-changing events caused by reckless driving. That alone, though, won’t have a lasting effect. Also, highly paid police officers can’t be sitting around waiting for a speeder to come by when there are plenty of crimes already in progress. There’ll still be the $20,000, $30,000 or even an incredible $50,000 in unpaid fines out there for driving offences. How that is possible in an era of instant communication is difficult to understand.

The paradigm needs to change and the process needs to be multi-tiered, beginning with the novice driver program.
Although the Newfoundland graduated driver licensing program is quite rigorous and there are consequences if a driver is caught with any measurable blood alcohol content, too many people seem to be avoiding detection. As well, the ones who are caught get off quite easy with a two-month, first time suspension. A six-month suspension for a blood alcohol content infraction, as well as for any moving violations, and double that for second and subsequent occurrences, might be more appropriate.

The second branch would be a special mobile police unit comprising a mixture of new recruits and experienced officers reporting to a senior member. That would be highly mobile unit conducting traffic checks at any time anywhere in the province. A two-year program should be enough to get the message across.

Branch three would consist of cleaning up the outstanding fines file, ensuring that fines issued are paid within the time limit and tracking down those that are in arrears. That would likely involve court work and — with the law generally perceived as being on the side of the crook — would likely be a bottleneck in the process, but with persistence, will work.

That’s too much trouble some might say, and too expensive. Not when you consider the costs associated with even a minor collision. It’s not unusual to see two fire trucks, two ambulances and a few police cars at minor collision sites. There are the costs associated with hospital beds, specialist fees, insurance and post-treatment support. That’s only minor however, compared to the emotional cost to a parent of losing a child; of a child losing a parent or any other relative. That’s a cost that can’t be measured in dollars and cents and can’t be understood unless it happens to you.

Let’s hope for more responsible driving. Let’s stop calling collisions involving an impaired driver “accidents.” Let’s call them involuntary manslaughter and treat the driver accordingly.

Only significant action will curb the ever-increasing carnage on our street and highways.

Derm Browne, St. John’s

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