Friday, September 14, 2007

Death by Automobile - Guilty or Not Guilty?

I believe individuals are responsible for what they do, in every sense of the word. We are brought up to know right from wrong, yet some people insist on pushing the envelope.

Consider our driving habits for instance. Most of us drive 5 miles over the speed limit. We do this because we feel the need to go faster than the speed limit, and know that it is unlikely you will be ticketed if caught. We know it's wrong, but we do it anyway. Those who exceed the speed limit by more than 7 mph will most likely get a ticket sooner or later. They also know it's wrong, but don't seem to mind paying the fine if caught.

Traffic signals are there to keep people from colliding with each other in the flow of traffic, as are the white lines in the road depicting individual lanes. How many times have you accelerated to get through that yellow light so you didn't have to stop? You know you may not get through in time, but you do it anyway.

And changing lanes without signaling, this is commonplace also. You give a quick check in the mirrors as you change lanes. Notice I said AS you change lanes, not signal first, look, then change lanes. And how many people actually turn their heads to look in blind spots? Ever had a close call when you started changing lanes and saw someone there at the last minute?

And drivers do these things, all in the name of being in a hurry, or lackadaisical attitude toward driving an automobile.

Not such a good thing when you consider that a car is an enormous object, hurtling down the road at speeds that prevent you from stopping quickly. It is essentially a very large weapon with which you can kill others if you do not follow the traffic laws. We all know this, but many ignore this fact.

Other traffic laws are also there to protect us from each other. Such as right-of-way laws. You must only pull out into traffic when it is safe and you will not hit another vehicle sharing the road. We know this also. We learned it in drivers ed, and the driving tests we take, both written and driving, and we are evaluated on these laws of the road. That's what a license is; a license to drive a car safely and to show you understand and will follow the laws of driving.

Isn't a Drivers License the same as signing a document saying you understand fully what the laws are? And that you will obey them?

You must yield to oncoming traffic when crossing roads, turning left (when there is no left-turn signal) and when changing lanes. We have all learned these things. Yet, drivers insist on rolling through stop signs, pulling out without looking or looking hard enough, running red and yellow lights in an effort to shave a few minutes off their commute, or negligently change lanes without the small effort of turning their head and looking.

Do drivers know they do these things? Yes! Should they be held accountable for them if they are caught? Yes! That's why we have driving laws. To protect others while sharing the road with them.

Now, consider this scenario. You are driving your car on a two-lane divided highway, in the fast lane, at the speed limit, and suddenly a van pulls across both lanes of traffic to make a left turn into the opposite flow of traffic from your direction. You see him and start to slow down to give him more time to complete the turn, calculating that he'll completely turn before you get there. He has but seconds to make the turn before you get there.

But he doesn't complete the turn, and stops dead in your path. You hit the van broadside, totalling your car. You have minor injuries, but are otherwise alright.

Is the driver of this van guilty of a driving law? Yes, he is guilty of pulling out into traffic when it wasn't safe. The law states that when entering traffic, you must yield the right of way to other drivers and wait until it is safe.

Now consider if you had been riding a motorcycle instead of driving a car. Now driving laws have a direct effect on your life, since to broadside a van at nearly any speed on a motorcycle will most certainly cause horrific injury, or even death, regardless of the protective gear you might be wearing.

The driver of the van sees you coming, and attempts to beat the traffic anyway, but is brought up short when the opposing traffic does not allow him to enter. He has knowingly, and willingly, placed himself in your path.

Again, is he guilty of violating your right of way? Again, yes he is. When he makes this decision and causes you injury or death, is he guilty? Yes, he is. Is he punished for murdering or slaughtering you during this act? No, he is not.

In our society (and this country), when a person knowingly takes a person's life, they are charged with murder or manslaughter, and sentenced to prison for this act. Yet, when another driver knowingly violates a traffic law and takes another person's life, they are fined for a traffic violation and are free to go do it all over again.

When a person handles a gun, and knowingly fires it in an unsafe area and kills another person, they are tried in a court of law for manslaughter. If it is proven they "knew" it was unsafe to do so, but did it anyway, they are guilty. No fines, no slap on the hand. Guilty as charged. When drivers pull out into traffic while "knowing" it was unsafe to do so, they are not held responsible. Why is this, do you think? It sounds the same as the scenario with the gun, but society in general does not think knowingly violating a traffic law at the risk of another person's life is a crime.

An automobile IS a deadly weapon. It does cause harm. How is this different than a gun? When you handle a gun, you need to be cognizant of the injury you might cause another, and follow safety rules to prevent that from happening. How does this differ from driving a car? There are driving rules, laws and regulations that are designed to prevent injury and death by auto. When you disregard those rules, laws, and regulations, and kill a person as a result, you are guilty of knowingly taking someone's life.

A law in Delaware that finds a person guilty of death by automobile when knowingly violating a driving law is currently before the state Supreme Court to decide if it is constitutional or not. There are 14 cases of vehicular manslaughter pending this decision. 14!!! You may think this is a paltry figure, but if you knew how many other cases, just like these, in other states where there is no law, and those drivers received a small fine and were free to go, you could multiply that number by at least 50, and probably more.

Americans raised holy hell over the death of a hand full of people who swallowed poisonous punch, death by cult. Americans mourned the loss of a hand full of students this year at Virginia Tech, at the hands of a depressed and deranged gun-toting student. Yet Americans think nothing of letting hundreds of negligent drivers go with a simple fine after knowingly violating a driving law and killing someone.

I say, my right to live, and others to be punished for taking my life, IS constitutional. If we allow this law to be declared unconstitutional, we are signing away our lives at the hands of millions of automobile drivers to simply violate a traffic law any time they choose, whether they take a life or not. Can you live with that? You may not have the choice to live with that.

Whether you ride a motorcycle, like to walk along the road, ride a bicycle or have children who ride bicycles along the roadway, or even driving a car, you are declaring that the death of anyone you know, or even yourself, by automobile is worth a mere $41 fine for violating a traffic law, if you do not support this law and keep it active.

The current Delaware law fines a person $1,150 fine and a mandatory prison sentence of 30 months for the first offense and a $2,300 fine and 60 months imprisonment for subsequent offenses. This in itself is a crime. But without this law, anyone can run you down in their auto, without any true retribution or punishment beyond a traffic ticket.

If you believe your life, or the lives of your loved ones, is worth more than a $41 fine when it is knowingly taken by an automobile driver, please view the following links and act appropriately. Whether you live in Delaware or not, this concerns YOU. This law MUST remain on the books, and set a precedent for other states to follow. This law may need modifications as it stands, but starting over from scratch may mean that many more will die as a result, and the killers will still go free.

here to read an editorial about this issue by Shirley Vanderver.

here to read this law's text in it's entirety.

here to read about the death that caused this law to come about.

here to read about the actual case my hypothetical story above corresponds to, and sign a petition and in an attempt to keep this law in effect.

In the mean time, as Shirley says,

"There may be those that think a murderer should be given a pass when it is 'just one of those things'. I don't. Keep §4176A. Enforce it. Let people know it is being enforced. And above all, be careful out there."

Hear, hear!

"Drive it like a 357 Magnum with a hair trigger." Author Sam I Am


rc said...

Drive it like 357 w/ hair trigger? Thats good. Really good....rc

Shirley Vandever said...

I like that comment as well !

Thanks for the great coverage of this issue. Hopefully the outcome of the challenge here will help other States get similar legislation.

Sam said...

Yes - keeping this law active could help other states adopt similar laws, and more importantly, punish the alarming number of ROW violators who maim and kill in the process.

But first, we must make sure this law stands the ground by which it was originally created. My prayers are for the attorney who will argue this fact before the honorable judge who will decide. May he call upon his brilliance and succeed.