Last night, I woke up to the sound of an almighty crash some 20 metres from my bedroom window. A boy racer had connected with a tree. The tree came through it surprisingly unscathed, but the car - which is sitting plaintively outside my house this morning - did not.
The sound of the impact was closely followed by a bout of yelling on the street. A drunk male passenger clambered out of the car and shouted adminitions at the driver. The driver, who was no older than twenty and utterly pissed, got out of the car, punched the tree, and then subjected the car to a series of kicks while shouting 'Fucking car!'. Fucked car was more like it: the engine was so badly damaged that the car simply smoked when the ignition was turned, and had to be pushed into a parked position. One drunk passenger slipped and nearly went under the car as it was being pushed.
Looking at the scene this morning, I could only feel relief that things didn't turn out so much worse - that no other vehicle or pedestrian was struck, and that no one in the car was injured (or, at least, didn't appear to be). The driver was taken off in handcuffs. Judging by the 'Money Mart' sticker above his registration plate, he had borrowed at some obscene rate of interest to purchase his pride and joy, but no longer has an asset to show for his debt. (And investors wonder why finance companies have been going down the tubes...)
You could speculate about why young people - usually men - behave this way. I was never one for drunken hooning, but at a teenager I rode at times with people who drove irresponsibly. I seemed to have a cheerful inability to link cause and effect. Likewise the young guy taken away by the Police from outside my house last night. He appeared genuinely surprised that an accident had resulted from his drunkenness, his driving way too fast, and the fact that he was (apparently) trying to pull some driving stunt at the time of the accident - probably showing off to his two female passengers. The difference between a pranged car and a manslaughter charge was probably only a matter of luck for this young guy, who had clearly made a number of utterly stupid decisions, but likely didn't intend harm to anyone.
I don't think there's much point attaching ranting moral condemnation to the driver's actions - not because he, and indeed his passengers, don't deserve it, but because I think it's more productive to look at young men's (self)destructive behaviour as the serious public health issue that it is. Whether or not you agree with punitive responses to boyracing, you have to concede that they're having a limited effect. I've got a son of my own, and despite all my efforts to raise him as a sensible being, I know there's every chance he'll have moments of reckless behaviour that may or may not end up causing harm.
Why do young guys behave in ways that pose risks to their own safety and others people's, and what - other than fines and other justice system-admnistered punishments - can the community do about it?