The art of communications has become so filtered by politicos, corporations, and organizations that it has become increasingly difficult to separate public perceptions from reality. It has also become more difficult to know precisely how to deal with it.
Take our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, for example. He has, in his first few months as the head of a slim minority government, worked hard to give the impression that he is tough on crime. His push to create this image has dragged the aftermarket once again into the debate on illegal street racing.
The honourable Mr. Harper has promised tougher penalties for those caught street racing, and other politicians have followed suit by railing against performance parts. (They want to be seen as tough on crime too.)
The perception is that these moves would reduce the prevalence of illegal street racing.
The reality is that illegal street racing is already illegal. That is why we call it “illegal street racing.” You can already be heavily fined for excessive speed, punished by insurers, and even go to jail for dangerous driving. The current Criminal Code penalties for dangerous driving — under which those caught for the most egregious cases involving injury or death are currently charged — are up to five years in jail for the crime itself, up to 10 if someone is injured, and up to 14 years in the slammer if someone is killed. Tell a 16-year-old kid that defending his manhood might put him in jail till he’s 30, and he might think twice. Then he’ll just go out and do whatever he was going to do, because he doesn’t believe he’ll get caught anyway. Boys will be boys, which means they will do very stupid things. What’s needed is greater enforcement, and a change in culture similar to that which has taken hold in regard to impaired driving.
And, as far as performance parts go, that is a red herring, an easy target for those looking for a scapegoat. Case in point: when two youths racing up the street I live on killed a cab driver earlier this year, they were driving their parents’ cars. Many cases are like that.
Now, I grew up with motorsport. I attended my first race at age three weeks, tightened the lug nuts on my dad’s car practically from the time I could walk, drove my first laps around Mosport in a Formula Vee on my father’s lap — shifting and steering, together — at age seven. I competed in karting internationally and in cars through my teens and into my early 20s. I have a healthy respect for speed and a very inflexible view that racing belongs only on a track.
Those who gather in the wee hours of the morning to meet for a match race have a different view. I am not so nave as to suggest that every case of illegal street racing involves unmodified vehicles. But the fact is that street racing is not about machinery; it is about mentality.
That aside, the statistics point strongly to undeniable realities. In the range of 3,000 people are killed on our roads every year. This is the eighth lowest of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. More people die from having trees fall on them in B.C. than from street racing on Toronto’s roads, and that’s hardly in the news.
You would be better off to spend time and resources on the real issue, where the majority of the problem is: impaired driving and seatbelt use. Some 40% of all road fatalities occur from Thursday night to Sunday and involve impaired drivers; 35% of fatalities are traced to lack of seatbelt use. Both those areas have long been the focus of enforcement and rightly so, from what the numbers indicate, but you don’t make headlines by suggesting that you keep doing what you’ve been doing.
Further to that point, in the U.S., more people who die on the job do so on the highways than any other place. According to 2004 statistics, some 45% of the 5,700 occupational deaths occurred on that nation’s highways and byways. The Canada Safety Council pegged a similar tracking statistic at 31% back in 2001.
Perhaps it would be better for us all to focus on reducing those deaths, rather than the estimated 0.02% of collisions that can be attributed to street racing.
The reality is that a campaign aimed at making executives, managers, construction workers, and truck drivers — among the groups who die most often — more aware of the risks to them when driving on the job could save vastly more lives. It just doesn’t have the PR bounce of fighting illegal street racing.
That is a shame, and that too is reality.
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