Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Orville Taylor | Fatal truth : class doesn't excuse blame

Published:Sunday | February 26, 2017 | 2:00 AMDr Orville Taylor

Somebody died because she was on the back of a motorcycle when someone drove a motor car and collided with the bike. She was the pillion and someone's daughter, sister, friend and mother.

I do not know the person myself, but having lost relatives and friends, the pain and emptiness that come with the death of a loved one are immense. It is painful even when there is time to plan; but even when there are months or years to rehearse the departure of that black limousine with her, the tragedy rips out your heart. It is infinitely more heart-rending when the death is sudden and swift, especially when the loved one is young.

As a driver myself, one of my biggest horrors and one of the very few things that scare the faecal matter out of me is the probability that I might one day hurt or kill someone with my weapon of mass destruction - my blackmobile, which I sometimes label the Beast.

Taking possession of a motor vehicle on the public roadways is an awesome responsibility. It is totally irrelevant whether an individual is an excellent driver or has had an impeccable driving record since the rock of ages was a pebble. What matters is whether or not at one critical moment, he or she makes that single mistake and causes a tragedy. Good people sometimes do bad things.

By now you might have figured out that this article is addressing the recent conviction of the principal of Shortwood Teachers' College, Dr Christopher Clarke, on the charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

Indeed, I empathise with Clarke, because I am also a senior academic who drives at night, although I will admit that I have no connection or standing in his named institution.

Moreover, most of us who have ever driven a motor vehicle, including the very police officers in the Traffic Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), can attest to at least one infraction on the road, where we breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Tank yu, Massa God, because mi lose focus and look what coulda happen!"

However, the sentiment is not whether or not it could have happened to anyone else. Rather, it is, if we did it, our goose would have been cooked. The circumstances of the fatal crash are that Clarke was careless in overtaking and slammed into the motorcycle. In defence, I am told, he stated that the area was poorly lit and that the motorcycle did not have sufficient lighting.

All of that might be true, but I recall years ago being in Traffic Court for what was a minor infraction (which I did not commit). The trial magistrate almost made fun of a protesting motorist who had sneaked through the red light or stop sign. In his defence, he pleaded that there was bright sunlight and the glare was in his eye. With a smirk, and no attempt to mask her attempt at sarcastic humour, she reminded him that the sun was always there.

 

Patent truth

 

Yet, within that acerbic response was a patent truth. When one is driving a motor vehicle, she or he must do so and make allowance for all the environmental factors. The threshold for dangerous driving is not as high as one would think. One can be driving well within the speed limit and still be driving dangerously or recklessly. It is also possible to be guilty of the offence if one proceeds through a light while the green is on or one overtakes at a point in the road where there is a broken white line and clear road signs that say that overtaking is allowable.

The important disclaimer in the Road Traffic Act is that the guilty driver did not give due regard "... to all the circumstances ... , including the nature, condition and use of the road, and the amount of traffic which is actually at the time, or which might reasonably be expected to be, on the road."

It is for the same reason that the idiots who see the green light and rush through the intersection and clog it up, yet wonder why Officer Dibble gave him a big-money ticket. Driving a vehicle has the same set of restrictions as those that govern freedom of speech and movement. You have to always pay attention to the rights and movements of others.

Drivers of vehicles, including motorcyclists, have to obey the rules of the road, which are passed in statute to protect us all. It is similar also to holding a firearm. Follow the guidelines and use-of-force policy and you will never get into trouble.

Still, if the lawyers for Clarke want to argue that the jury or judge erred, the system allows for an appeal. I am not a lawyer, so I do not know whether there are any grounds to do so in this case. After all, judges and juries do make mistakes, and they might have done so this time as well. But that is how law goes, and we must always 'let justice always run its course'. If you feel that he is not guilty, say so.

 

Reputation irrelevant

 

However, let us cease the comments about Clarke being a good man and the myriad character references to his stature and reputation. None of that is relevant, and we need to stop this hypocrisy in our judicial system.For me, one's reputation is only relevant post facto and should help a judge determine how severely to punish the offender, especially if he has a history of indiscipline and misconduct.

Social class or economic status should have no bearing. In fact, the brighter and more privileged should be held to be more responsible because they should know better. They, more than others, can't claim ignorance as an excuse.

Make your minds up. Are you not the same people who baulked over the slap on the wrist in some of the recent high-profile cases? If we are serious about reducing crime, let the law apply to all. Congrats to the cops and prosecutors who simply did their job.

- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline