Transport and Delusions

Reading Beyond the Kerb’s open letter to the legal system got me thinking about the mass delusion we suffer from in the UK when it comes to driving a car. 

Musical ability is something which some people are blessed with. Some people are extremely accomplished musicians. Some people are competent singers. Some choose not to participate, but within them lies potential which could one day be nurtured. Some people are tone deaf.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with not being musical. Other than not being able to join a choir or an orchestra (or at least, not a good one) being tone deaf will not significantly diminish your life, bar you from a significant number of jobs or cause exceptional hardship to you, or your family.

Our collective delusion is thinking that driving a car in a public space is different.

Some people are extremely proficient and enthusiastic drivers. Plenty more are competent. Some do not drive, but would be able to do so safely with sufficient training. Some people will are not capable of driving in a consistently safe manner.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with falling into the latter category. What is wrong is a system which allows people who are incompetent to drive to gain a licence. A system which allows people who have demonstrated their inability to drive, to continue driving. A system which places the convenience of an individual driver above the safety of innocent third parties. A system which gives no justice to this whose lives are ended, or irrevocably changed, typically through no fault of their own.

It is understandable that when confronted with a list of injustices like those described on Beyond the Kerb, we feel incredibly angry about the sheer injustice of it. I know I do. 

However, I do not feel that imprisoning drivers who kill through incompetence rather than malice achieves a great deal. Drivers who are imprisoned seldom receive permanent driving bans. In fact, driving bans shorter than the term of the prison sentence are depressingly common. When a driver’s incompetence results in a death or maiming, the only just outcome is to stop them from driving, permanently. Naturally it follows that the testing and monitoring of drivers needs to be made fit for purpose as well, to prevent these tragedies before they happen.

Having said this, being banned from driving, or being unable to pass the test in the first place shouldn’t diminish your life. Other than being prevented from working in driving jobs, not being permitted to drive should not bar you from a significant number of jobs or cause exceptional hardship to you or your family.

The difficulty is that with a transport system in which the odds are so heavily stacked in favour of the private motorist, it seems exceptionally easy to weasel out of a driving ban on the grounds of ‘‘exceptional hardship.’ Subsidised car use, bicycle infrastructure which is non-existent and public transport has been left to decay for decades before the remainder was converted to dividend mines for private shareholders means it is easier to pretend that driving is something that all adults can and eventually will do to an adequate standard.

Until we tackle the systemic disadvantage which non-car travel has been placed at for decades in the UK, the delusion will continue and innocent third parties will continue to pay.


3 thoughts on “Transport and Delusions

  1. That’s a well argued and thoughtful piece, especially in linking sentencing policy to transport policy.

    My only difficulty is with the idea of automatic life bans. I think that mandatory sentences, with no discretion reserved for the judge, cause more problems than the initial faults they seek to correct.

  2. The people will never support lifetime driving bans because of the possibility of getting one themselves.

    There’s always a majority in favour of harsher punishments for murder, burglary and other crimes because most people are reasonably confident they’ll never commit such crimes and suffer the harsher punishment.

    But with motoring crimes it is different. Look how many drivers complain about speeding cameras and fines.

    • I think the distinction is different.

      It’s easy to avoid speeding cameras and the resulting fines or points which catch drivers who are deliberately speeding. I deliberately drive within the speed limit. Ditto with parking offences. I deliberately park only where it is allowed. Result: I have incurred no fines or points in forty-five years of driving. Like murder or burglary, speeding and parking crimes/offences are something I’m reasonably confident I’ll never commit.

      Can I claim, however, that having a road traffic incident is something for which I’m reasonably confident I’ll never be responsible? I believe I drive with competence, care and attention. I’ll certainly never deliberately choose to kill or injure another road user. It certainly hasn’t happened in forty-five years. But might it? Might I make a misjudgement? Might I fail to see something/someone?

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