We are all free. We are free to make up our own minds. We are free to make our own decisions. We are not free from the consequences of those decisions.
For example, I’m free to try and rob a bank, even though that’s against the law. When I get caught afterwards (bank robbers always get caught) I’m not free from the consequences, which would mean being sent to jail. You see, before (hypothetically!) robbing the bank, I knew full well that it was against the law. I knew what the risks were, and I knew what the outcome would be when I was caught. And yet, I’d remain free to choose to rob a bank. Laws don’t strip away your option to commit a crime, but only serve to disincentivise crime, though promising rather unpleasant consequences. For most people, the threat of unpleasant consequences is enough to keep them on the straight and narrow.
There are of course exceptions, with the biggest one being road crime. The Oxford Dictionary defines “crime” as “an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law”, and going by that definition, you probably committed road crime quite often, when driving (assuming you drive, and not everyone does).
For starters, like the vast majority of British drivers, you probably speed on a daily basis. Speeding is defined as exceeding the speed limit, and perfectly fits the definition of crime. Speeding is just a simple example, and there are many others: skipping red lights, which drivers do with alarming, and increasing regularity, parking on double-yellow lines, and more.
The question is simply this: why does the threat of punishment seem enough to deter most people from robbing banks, but doesn’t deter them from committing road crime? Sadly, the answer is devastatingly simple: because most drivers know there’s a very small chance of being caught. Even when caught for serious incidents, where the driver’s actions caused someone else to be killed, or seriously injured (KSI) the chances are they would be treated ridiculously leniently by the courts.
If you don’t believe me, I’d really like you to go off and read this extremely concerning, and long, Twitter thread.
What’s the point of this post? Simple: everything we do has, in some way or another, an impact. You cannot avoid that, and you cannot prevent that. What you can do is try and control what that impact is. For example, when a friend or relative boasts about speeding, as many often do, calmly and politely try to talk to them about the impact that has on others. That could range from an actual collision , through to scaring others from using the roads, increased pollution, and increased costs. This is especially true, given the ever-growing sizes of SUVs.
Stop talking about “accidents” – road traffic collisions are almost always due to driver error, so call them crashes or collisions. After all, police in the UK changed their language from “road traffic accidents”, or RTAs, to “road traffic collisions”, or RTCs, specifically because “accident” suggests it was an unforeseeable, unavoidable event. We know the reality is different, so it’s time we all stopped using language that excuses driver error.
Of course, people won’t immediately change their driving styles just because you once spoke to them about it, but if enough of us consistently follow this approach, we can indeed turn the tide, and make road crime socially unacceptable. Cars kill. That is indisputable. Together, we can make decisions to start limiting that. It’s driver error that kills, so it’s drivers we need to target, and that includes you and me.