“I don’t think that this is a case of hypocrisy. It is though, a case of two standards, probably for good reason. It is the difference between professional standards and personal standards while on a public road and operating a vehicle.” –Piers Heriz-Smith
The above quote comes from a comment I received about the decision not to criminally prosecute Candy Lynn Baldwin, 19, for her role in causing a major highway crash on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge last year on Aug. 10 that killed truck driver John Robert Short, 57.
In my opinion piece on this case, I stated – and still believe – that this case highlights a major double standard when it comes to operating motor vehicles. On the one hand, truck drivers face ever tighter rules concerning their health, skills, vehicle condition, hours of operation, and personal conduct (i.e. use of drugs and alcohol) while behind the wheel. On the other, though, everyday motorists – i.e. “four wheelers” – face a far laxer series of rules governing their vehicles and conduct while on the road.
This situation, in my humble opinion, is a major problem. Reader Piers Heriz-Smith, however, doesn’t think so – here’s why:
“Candy was not legally impaired. That appears to be the standard for culpability for a private citizen operating a vehicle on the road. I'm fine with that. I feel I can say this easily as I am also fine with there being a set of standards for those of us in uniform that does not apply to the rest of the country. It goes with the territory. I can legally have a beer and then hunt or target shoot with a firearm. However, a police officer or soldier may not have a beer and shot with lunch while carrying a firearm. Truck drivers, servicemen, law enforcement, politicians, teachers … there’s an almost endless list of occupations that if occupied in, you may be sanctioned for behavior acceptable in the population at large.”
Heriz-Smith makes some very good points here. Yet there’s one EXTREMELY critical thing left out of the discussion above – in the case of motor vehicle operation, we all use the same roads and the same time.
To put Heriz-Smith’s hunting analogy in the proper context, it would be like allowing hunters to drink beer and shoot at game WHILE IN THE MIDDLE OF TOWNS AND CITIES as opposed to the great (and far less populated) outdoors.
This is the problem when it comes to improving highway safety: you can make all the safety rules you want for trucks drivers, inspect their rigs twice a week, beef up medical standards, monitor hours of service electronically, whatever: if you don’t apply the same rigorous standards to the larger motoring public, you won’t improve highway safety. In my opinion, total annual highway fatalities stay stuck up around 40,000 – and shall remain in that range for the foreseeable future – until this dichotomy is significantly addressed and I said as much in my original commentary on Baldwin's case.
Again, I believe more rigorous standards for truck drivers are a good and necessary thing. But we must apply that mindset to ALL motorists out there (myself included) on the road, because we are all on the SAME roads and the SAME time. A speeding car cutting off a big rig causes an accident just as severe as when a speeding big rig hits a car – they create the same destruction. That’s why I believe we’ve got to be tough but fair on ALL the drivers on our roads today.