Monday, June 09, 2008

Don’t blame the lamp-posts

This is an old article, but unfortunately nothing at all has changed in Trinidad and Tobago. I thought it was good to bring it back. We need to keep reminding people that the drivers are responsible. cars don't jump medians by themselves. If there were no driver behind the wheel to start it up, put it in gear and apply acceleration, the car would sit quietly in the parking lot!

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2002
By Donna Yawching

“PILLAR OF DEATH” the front page headline screamed, above the photo of the maxi-taxi wrapped —and I mean that literally—around a T&TEC lamp-post. The head and tail of the maxi were virtually kissing, and the middle had split open horizontally like a tin can. Two passengers were dead and ten were injured; the only surprise was that it wasn’t worse.The driver appears to have sustained light injuries. He told police that his vehicle had picked up a skid in heavy rainfall, and smashed into the post. For this, the unfortunate post is now branded a pillar of death.When I read stories like this, I am enraged. Lamp-posts do not leap out in the middle of the street and accost drivers. Neither do guardrails, or walls, or highway medians. For the most part, these artifacts stay quietly in one place, doing their jobs. And cars do not get the bit between their teeth and dash off with their hapless drivers, the way a racehorse might. They simply respond to the actions of the person behind the wheel.Yet we are constantly reading about cars that “go out of control”, or “pick up a skid” (as if it were a passenger); or about ruthless “pillars of death”. No-one ever seems to blame the driver. No-one ever says the obvious: “driving too fast”; “driving while drunk”; “driving negligently”. No-one ever tells the driver: “You killed innocent people.” No headline ever reads: DEATH DRIVER. I wonder why this is.Accidents do happen, I am quite aware of that: genuine accidents, the kind that cannot be foreseen or forestalled. The child or animal running out into the road, the brake that suddenly fails (though even that is usually a result of negligence); the “bad drive” from a fellow motorist that causes a fatal swerve over a cliff. But most of our road accidents are not due to unavoidable destiny, but rather to carelessness, bravado, and criminal negligence.Just the photo of that maxi hugging the light pole tells you all you need to know: the driver was probably going much too fast. A vehicle doesn’t fold like that at 40 kmph: it had to have hit the lamp-post at quite a speed. And you don’t “pick up a skid”, even in the rain, if you’re driving at a responsible pace; you do it by speeding down a wet road, and starting to hydroplane. Why was this driver going so fast through what he himself described to the police as “heavy rain”?Yet we continue to blame the pillars, or the road, or the intersections: to brand them as “death-traps” and “death strips” and “pillars of death”; and I am left to wonder why. Is it because we are totally incapable of taking responsibility for our actions, and do not expect anyone else, even such murderous drivers, to take any responsibility for theirs?Is it because we feel that, having survived the accident itself, the driver has suffered enough, and should not be forced to confront the misery he (it’s usually a he) has caused? Is it because we prefer to bury our heads in the sand, and distance ourselves from unpleasant realities by simply ignoring them? Are we content to say that it was just God’s will, and leave it at that? Why is it that we so seldom read of any charges being brought against these drivers, or of the subsequent outcomes of these cases? All we ever hear is that Sgt. X is investigating; and nothing more.The questions go deeper. Why is it that so many drivers feel they can drive so dangerously, so stupidly, so criminally, and with total impunity? Why are our road rules broken with greater regularity than they are kept? Is it just because we are such a carefree, spontaneous bunch of happy natives that it doesn’t occur to us that the rules are there for a reason, and are actually meant to be followed?Or is it because we know, almost for a fact, that no-one is going to make us follow them? Is it because we know, almost for a fact, that the police couldn’t give a damn how fast we drive, or what rules we break, particularly since they are often doing even worse?The “Pillar of Death” headline greeted me on my return from a short trip to Barbados. On my arrival there two days earlier, a friend had come to meet me at the airport. He was a little late; I was waiting outside as he pulled up. I waved, and ran across to the pickup bay, where he had drawn to a stop. He was parked there for the few seconds it took to pop open the trunk for my bag, and for me to get into the car; he never even got out of his seat. As he pulled off, a policeman flagged him down. He had inadvertently stopped—get this—on the pedestrian crossing. He was given a ticket. What’s more, he submitted meekly.Needless to say, I felt terrible; and I did think the cop had been a bit too hard: a stern warning would have been adequate. But the fact remains: my friend will never make that mistake again. Neither, I’m sure, will most Bajans—not that mistake, nor many others. Because, you see, they know that someone is watching, and will take action. That someone considers it his job to take action—an obligation, not an option depending on whim.There is, in short, a measure of consistency; and as such, people find it in their own interest to drive carefully. Never once in Barbados did I see anyone speed up the shoulder, or cut across another driver to turn right from a left-turn lane, or force their way into a line of traffic. When I asked my cousin, who lives there, if these things happen, she looked at me wide-eyed. She couldn’t even imagine it. I wonder if she can imagine a pillar of death.
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