19 February 2010

Traffic offence excuses

Special pleadings are not acceptable in the “No Excuse” initiative being run here in Dorset, a largely rural county on Britain’s south coast. The yearlong, $1.25 million project — a combination of advertising, education and increased police patrols — is an effort to reduce the number of accidents caused by driver inattention, a common problem across the car-driving world. […]

To that end, Sergeant Savage and Police Constable Lee Briggs were driving around [Weymouth in Dorset] the other day, on the lookout for signs of inattention. Their innocuous unmarked car became a light-flashing, siren-blaring vessel of righteousness every time they saw someone violating a rule, which was just about the whole time.

There is the odd psychotic episode — once, Sergeant Savage had to pepper spray a cellphone-using driver who turned violent — which is why the officers wear bulletproof vests. But “probably 99 percent of people you stop are decent people who accept whatever enforcement comes their way,” Sergeant Savage said.

The drivers caught that day tended to employ the “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy” defense, admitting only to part of the misdeed. Stopped for making a call while driving to his job as a window repairman, a man in a dusty Vauxhall tried to claim in mitigation that he had just bought his phone and had not yet had time to activate his plan to install a hands-free system. His assertion was undercut by the obvious elderliness and grubbiness of the phone.

The man then delivered a heartfelt monologue on the topic of cellphones and civil liberties. “Where does it stop?” he asked. “What won’t they let you do next? Have a passenger in your car? Listen to the radio?”

“On the other hand, you could pull over and take the call,” Sergeant Savage admonished. “This is a car, not an office.”

Mr. Smith, the road safety manager, said that the campaign’s name was a homage to motorists’ endless litany of fruitless rationalizations. “I was out about a year ago and we stopped a lady who had three children in the back of the car,” he related. “The officer said, ‘Why aren’t these children belted in?’ and she said, ‘They’re not my children.’ ”

- New York Times, 18 February 2010

No comments: