Sunday, 19 June 2016

Drivers aren't evil. A review of penalties for offending drivers

I heard on the radio the story of someone who did actually drink, drive and run over a pedestrian, killing him. I want to share about my feelings on this.

Today, just a few minutes ago, I was coming home from a party for my grandfather who is amazingly still alive after all these years. I was listening to the radio. A segment about the story from a former drunk driver aired. He killed about 15 years ago, an 11 year old boy in a crosswalk. He's been having nightmares, and felt like the worst person in the world, until he committed suicide a few years ago. He was genuinely tearful.

It made me think about what happens when I get angry at people who do bad things. Most of these people aren't evil. You probably know by now who Brock Turner is. And you probably know that he was drunk at the time of the rape.

But the big difference with this drunk driver and Brock is that the driver was genuinely sorry, and came clean as soon as it is humanly possible. He's spoken out against his own behavior. He was willing to do what he could.

Some drivers, like some Brock Turners, don't admit their own guilt. These need a larger penalty, and they need to be convinced of how bad of a driver they were. It is a good idea to make examples out of these on the internet.

And some people really are incapable of driving safely, and not because of any fixable things like alcohol. Or they were so reckless so often that they have shown that they cannot prove to be safe drivers. These people should be prohibited from driving.

This is why I like penalties that correlate with the offense itself. If you go ahead and drink and drive, you need an alcolock interlock in your car that checks at random intervals for extra samples along the way. A fine that takes away a certain amount of your disposable income, also called day fines in some countries like Finland, is calculated by taking half of the money that you have on a typical day to spend on whatever is just a want, not a need, and then multiplying that by a certain number of days to account for the severity of the offense. The police google your after tax incomes and taking in certain guesses for how much money one is likely to need to spend on their expenses, then they use a mathematical formula to calculate your fine. I like the system quite a lot, especially given that it's generally those with money to spare who commit traffic offenses and not care about it.

Demerit points are a good idea, but you often need too many demerits in too short a time for people to believe that their license is in danger.

Community service is a good idea. If you can just pay a fine, even a relatively high one, it's still mainly an annoyance and lost dinner parties. If you actually have to go and spend 6 hours out of your Saturday doing things like cleaning up the park, you are not going to be happy. And you are not going to be likely to commit traffic offenses.

This part is mainly deterrence, to deter others from doing the same. It's not really doing all that much to give back. But given that they weren't actually in a crash, they didn't scare anyone and it was a violation of the rules of the road, this is OK.

The biggest thing that makes people less likely to commit traffic offenses is getting caught for them. So ramping up the frequency of enforcement is also very helpful, as are well used automatic cameras.

And of course, prevention is better than having to go and arrest the person who did cause a crash. I'd rather have no crash than fining someone who caused a crash if I had the choice. Alcolocks that are the less annoying kind that just check at the beginning of the trip are still effective, are probably a bit cheaper, can be integrated into the vehicle when it's made, reducing costs further and they also make it much harder to drink and drive.

But the biggest thing that keeps people safe is a sustainably safe road. With features that automatically enforce safe speed, forgive errors to the degree required to ensure that no serious injury nor death can occur and ensuring that any conflict that does happen, can only happen at acceptable speeds, acceptable differences in masses and acceptable differences in direction, tailor made to the tolerance of the human body and the way that our vehicle's protection systems can ensure that occupants and other road users are protected.

Enforcement is good to have, it ensures justice for the victims of road crashes and things that cause secondary effects like cars beginning a stop start wave, etc, but infrastructure is the basic thing needed to keep us alive and well.

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