The age of irresponsibility

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July/August 2015

What’s happening on our roads is a microcosm of what seems to be ailing society in general.

I write with an angry undertone because three mornings ago my cousin and his wife were killed when their motorcycle was slammed by an oncoming car hell-bent on passing the car in front of him despite the solid centre line. According to a horrified witness the two vehicles seemed to be racing. The driver of the passing vehicle—just 20 years old—must have realized he’d set up a horrible scenario when he saw the approaching motorcycle. My cousin braked as best he could but was doomed nonetheless. He died instantly; she passed away a short time later. 

This happened back east but it could have been anywhere: The domain of stupidity and irresponsibility knows no boundaries and death by vehicular homicide is all too common in our province as well. Just north of Pemberton, two cyclists were recently killed after being mowed down by a suspended driver who had drunkenly veered into their lane. Closer to home, we lose people on the Malahat and Pat Bay Highway every year and the reasons always boil down to some amalgamation of the same common denominators—speed, impairment and distraction. 

Driving has come to be seen as a right, not a privilege, and what’s happening on our roads is a microcosm of what seems to be ailing society in general. In so many settings it’s become almost the norm to grab privileges while declining the correlating responsibilities. (Think of the watered-down repercussions for broken election promises and the resigned shoulder shrugs when corporate assurances of “world-class” systems turn out to be bogus. No one is booted out of office; no operating license is permanently pulled.) Truth is, the notions of responsibility and accountability have been shelved at the back of our mental archives, right next to the conventions of self-discipline and delayed gratification. Today’s exculpatory society wants none of it. 

We barely raised an eyebrow when two young reckless narcissists recently ran their luxury cars off the cliff at Clover Point. What a waste of beautiful cars. But really, what a waste of young minds totally glazed over by boredom and ego. These kids were fortunate to walk away unhurt but have they learned enough to change their driving style? Were they held accountable by their parents? Are they perhaps walking or using transit until they themselves have earned the money for new wheels? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on any of that.

Since we no longer talk about responsibility it’s impossible to have frank discussions about accountability. Instead, we evade the real crux of an issue with an earnest milquetoast collaboration on all the outlying bits and pieces of circumstance that seem causal to the problem but in reality are not. 

Case in point: Shortly after the two cyclists were killed, the conversation on CBC Radio’s Almanac perambulated around the importance of wider road shoulders, paved shoulders, bike lanes, cycling etiquette, better enforcement and so on. While there’s no denying we need well-engineered roads in good repair, not once did I hear any mention of the real problem here—that the driver is a habitual drunk who thought nothing of driving without a license. Fines, temporary impoundments and short jail sentences all bounced off him like ineffectual confetti. Yet we still don’t think of taking away his vehicle—permanently, and regardless of who owns it—every time he’s caught driving impaired or with licence suspended. Why not? It would be a punch to the wallet and that’s the only way some folks can be stopped. Or blood on the conscience, which this man now has.

The government is also culpable here, despite how loudly it protests that charge. Last summer it increased the speed limit on many BC highways to 120 kilometres per hour despite the concerns of the Provincial Medical Health Officer and law enforcement authorities. And currently it is tweaking the liquor laws to make alcohol more readily available than ever before, despite the fact that drinking and driving is the problem that never goes away and requires mega tax dollars just to keep under control. Does this make sense? It does when you understand that the government is as addicted to booze tax revenue as problem drinkers are to alcohol. 

Back east two beloved innocents are gone forever. I mourn their passing and what we’ve become. 

Writer, master gardener, and mother Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic wishes everyone an enjoyable summer. Please stay safe on the road.