Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Should we punish risk or consequence?

Just been listening to Lord Ahmed's solicitor criticising the 12 week jail sentence handed down today to his client who was found to have been using a mobile phone while, claiming he was a scapegoat. My understanding is that whilst the police investigated a collision involving Lord Ahmed, it was discovered that he had been using his mobile phone to text over a long period of time earlier in the journey, although this wasn’t a factor in the accident that later occurred.

When someone drives after drinking, or if you text whilst driving, or choose to drive in any other way that significantly increases accident risk, there is a good chance that you won’t cause an accident, let alone leave someone killed or injured. But there is also a significant chance that drink driving or texting whilst driving will result in the death or serious injury of an innocent party.

If Lord Ahmed’s texting had resulted in a death or serious injury, the prosecutors and victims family would doubtless have rightly expected a very significant jail sentence, far in excess of 12 weeks - a quick search of BBC news reveals a number of tragic examples. I think there is a case to be made that if we want to reduce the death toll on our roads further, perhaps we need to punish more based on how recklessly risky the behaviour of the driver was, regardless of the seriousness of the consequences, as once a risk has been taken, the consequences are ultimately just a matter of good or bad luck. So personally I think Lord Ahmed has got away lightly – the message needs to be sent that texting while driving is not acceptable under any circumstances.

There isn't much relevance of this to Coleridge, except that I can't help thinking about how the police have chosen to police the Hills Road Bridge roadworks, where recklessly dangerous overtaking manoeuvres have been all but ignored for the purposes of law enforcement, and how different this approach would be if one of these manoeuvres, that are completely unacceptable, was unfortunate enough to result in the death or serious injury of a cyclist.

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