Friday, October 19, 2007
Politicians can be so stupid. Imagine, for a moment, that you've been transported back in time to the Middle Ages. Times are tough, what with serfdom, various famines and the whole feudal system thing. Food is scarce and tough times beget (that's me being learned, by the way) tough measures. There's a rash of bread thievery happening and the local sheriff-cum-tyrant is determined to be tough on crime.
But, like politicians throughout the ages, actually looking like he's doing something is far more important than actually doing something. So, to assuage the various lords, counts and minor potentates that are getting their sourdough in a bunch, he passes a law that bread pilfering will be henceforth punished by death. Drastic measures to be sure, but, hey, little Lord Fontleroy didn't get his breakfast croissant the Friday before last.
Unfortunately for you, in travelling through the time portal, you get morphed into one medieval-type badass teenager from the wrong side of the moat. Dad's off to the crusades, mom's on the cider and you're the only breadwinner. No money in pocket and with 13 younger mouths to feed (remember there was no television or Playstation back then), you break into Ye Olde Bakery to scrounge the morning's toast. Unfortunately, Bobby the policeman happens upon your misappropriating ways. The jig's up, you're going down, it's the gallows in the town square for you.
Or maybe not. And all of you, dear readers, being very modern types, are surely seeing the flaw in the argument. With the penalty for killing the policeman and escaping no worse than taking the bread, there's very little reason for our mythical Robin Hood to stick around. He's no worse off if he, um, offs the copper and he just might, considering the lack of CSI in those days, get off scott-free.
Now, fast-forward half a millennium or so. You're an equally testosterone-fuelled teenager but you're all hip and stuff, what with your iPod Nano and a hot-rodded Corvette (with optional K & N Filtercharger kit and mondo rims, I might add). You're cruising, illegally you know, at a buck-sixty when all of a sudden (as these occasions are wont to be) you spot the flashing reds in your rear-view. At the same moment, you pass one of the 401's new signs. You know the ones: They say for 50 kilometres an hour over the speed limit, you are subject to a maximum $10,000 fine, immediate licence suspension and the impounding of your vehicle.
So, let's see. If you stop, you'll get fined big bucks, lose your car and get your licence suspended. And if you run, you'll get a ... big fine, lose your car and get your licence suspended. Of course, the second choice also contains the possibility that you might just get off scott-free. Which do you think the average teenager is going to choose?
I'm 49 years old now, have RRSPs, a mortgage and a kid I have to put through university. I would, of course, stop, face the consequences and impress upon my 23-year-old that the law must always be obeyed. But, when I was 19, you can bet your ass that I would have scampered faster than you can say a Ninja ZX-12R has 172 horsepower and good luck catching me, you Dodge-driving, doughnut-eating flatfoot. And don't be talking to me about helicopters. Damned few can keep up with a Dodge Viper at full chat.
So, here's my fearful prediction. After the initial crackdown passes, our constabulary will start enforcing this new "racing" law selectively. Soccer moms and dads in Dodge Caravans will be let off since they obviously "didn't mean" to race. Young turks in slammed Civics and riding superbikes, however, will have to be "taught a lesson." The news of this discrimination will spread like wildfire. Feeling (wrongly) that they have nothing to lose, more of them will scamper at the sight of the gendarmes. There will more car chases than ever. And there will be no reduction in the number of fatalities caused by street racing.
So that we are absolutely clear on this, let me categorically state that any speed competition on public roads is wrong. Street racing is illegal, immoral and, as two more innocent bystanders found out recently, it can be deadly. Anyone involved in such activities should be charged as such and feel the full weight of the law.
But racing, by definition, requires that two or more vehicles be competing. Trying to stretch that definition to anyone driving alone on a highway at 50 km/h over the speed limit is simply foolish. Worse yet, I fear it will turn out to be bad governance.
© National Post 2007