Saturday, 16 April 2016

Penalizing drivers?

Something often said about making it more friendly to walk and cycle and to cut down on collisions is to fine and jail drivers more harshly. Let's look at that.

I don't support this idea for the most part. It is uncommon that a rise in harshness of a punishment laid on anyone will result in a decrease of offenses. Americans execute murderers and they have among the highest murder rates in the developed world. In Norway, your murder sentence is 21 years in a much better prison (if you're still a danger to society, you can repeat the 21 years up to 5 times) and their murder rate is by far lower. There are other factors, less income inequality for example, but the justice system is focuses on rehabilitation.

How does this relate to driving? Well, would you rather have every drunk driver thrown in a harsh jail but still have about the same number of drunk drivers or would you rather have fewer drunk drivers even if it means that their sentences will be lighter? Often times a long sentence doesn't quite leave people satisfied. They still lost their loved ones and they can't get them back.

And this still doesn't do anything to prevent the crashes. It only has an after the fact partial remedy. This goes for all crimes and offenses too by the way. And given the way that the roads are designed, there is only a matter of time before the crash happens again. This is why Sustainable Safety aims to prevent the crash as much as possible, forgiving errors and limiting the severity of the crashes, aiming to make them non lethal and as few serious injuries as possible. Strict liability is only an insurance law. The road design we have also often encourages offenses. The design speed of the road is higher than the posted speed in most cases, this is why most arterial roads feel like 70 is a better speed for them rather than the 60 we often have, and why 120-135 km/h is the usual speed on most freeways in North America unless there is bad weather or congestion or sharp curves or steep slopes. Stopping ahead of the stopping line, and often into the crosswalk, is encouraged because the lights are on the opposite side of the stopping line well ahead of the crosswalk. Sometimes the road itself is just ambiguous. When turning across a minor side road and crossing a sidepath open to cyclists, there is no information given about whether cyclists or that turning car should have priority, almost never is there a given regulatory sign like a yield or stop sign, rarely does the physical design help, and practically nobody is taught about how to behave.

Most crashes are genuine mistakes. Practically nobody starts their day driving while singing out the window "It would be a wonderful day to run over some pedestrians!". In fact, I've never heard this ever spoken.

This is why I don't support things like putting them in prison. If there was a drunk driver who was caught, I'd rather sentence them to need an alcolock in their cars, an alcohol rehabilitation program if they consistently had too much, make them go to a driver education class and give them a large fine. Only those who are seriously dangerous to other people even in ordinary life without cars (a driving ban can be used if needed) should be sent to prison, and even then, they are only a danger to society and they have a hope of not always being such a danger, and can be let free once they are, and thus, everything should be done so as to make the transition from prison to the outside world and the skills and tools to lead a crime free life. They don't do anything good by being in a prison all day. They could be doing something useful at a job. It costs a lot of money to jail someone, and few could fund their own imprisonment. That money could be spent on cycling and walking, road design tools and programs to reduce the temptations and chance that people will make the mistakes in the first place.

This is why I support Nordic justice and why we must have roads that have self explaining rules and expectations with as few temptations to break them as possible. You don't put your hand on a hot stove, you don't normally want to kill your neighbour, you obey the speed limit because it feels like the right speed to go at for the conditions at hand.

Genuinely bad drivers should feel the force of law, but only so far that they don't drive anymore or don't drive in the dangerous manner anymore (you can't start a car if it has an alcolock and you're over the set limit) along with something to let them know that the action is wrong, like a fine or some community service.

By the way, strict liability in the Netherlands is only an insurance law that means that the driver's insurer pays for the financial cost to the non motorized vulnerable road users if the driver causes a crash, and partially pays if the vulnerable road user's mistakes were not unexpected and the crash could be avoided. It doesn't affect the drivers themselves except through a slightly higher insurance rate.

(I have read the story about the affluenza teen. I don't think the anger is mainly about the low sentence itself, it's the low sentence compared with the typical sentences of people who aren't rich. By the way, don't drink and drive. You are quite likely to get into a crash, and this goes for anything else that affects your capability to drive, like phones or a lack of sleep).

I hope that I've given you the right ideas about how the mistakes of drivers should actually be reduced in number and severity and maybe even convinced you about how the justice system should work, not only for drivers and road users but for everyone too.

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